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The Nineteenth Century’s Middle Ages: Representation of the Middle Ages through nineteenth century novels or arts

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  1. Introduction
  2. Adam's belief in the expressions of buildings
  3. The Virgin's statue
  4. His comparison of the Virgin to earthly queens
  5. Conclusion

Henry Adams, Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres (1913).

In Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres, Henry Adams depicts several well-known monuments and old sights of France, all of which were built during the Middle Ages. In this book, published in 1913, Adams comments on those monuments as he is looking at them. As a foreword of his book, he explains in which conditions he is doing this, telling the reader that the most perfect audience would be a young niece carrying a new Kodak camera, and that all his descriptions should be read while bearing this in mind, that he's speaking to a curious ten-year old little girl with a craving for gothic things.

In this essay, we will focus on a particular sub-section of Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres, as Adams wanders in the gothic cathedral of Chartres, in the south-west of Paris. In this very cathedral, he stops in front of the Virgin of Chartres, a statue representing the mother of Jesus Christ, built, as one may assume,, according to the gothic tradition of the Middle Ages, and lets his imagination wonder as he tries to picture to himself the Virgin's memories or reflexions upon her statue as a godhead. He also gives a rather accurate description of the stained-glass windows which can be seen as huge frescos, giving interpretations. Further in the book, the reader can also find plans of the cathedral itself, reproduced from actual documents, giving measures and lots of other different details (angles, materials?).

[...] And this is where Adams's medievalism seems to be the most articulate: through his relevant reflexion on how the people lived, what they thought and which theologies they were attached to in those days, and as we said before, he embodies the average thinker of the nineteenth century and his vision of the Middle Ages, and by the way, he gives his relatively modern nineteenth-century- view of the thirteenth-century-world as reflected in the elements of the cathedral. For example, when medieval people were building the cathedral of Chartres, it was obviously for religious purposes: us [people of the nineteenth century], it is a child fancy, a toy-house to please the Queen of Heaven ( to charm her till she smiled. [...]


[...] To others, the gothic seems hoary with age and decrepitude, and its shadows mean death.? Adams gives here the vision of the middle Ages people seemed to have in the nineteenth century. According to him, in the thirteenth century, that is to say during the era of the cathedral builders, the Christians were united as never before or after. Since then, his vision of global civilization never stopped declining, and this nostalgia for ideal times can be felt in his descriptions in the whole book through the bitter comments he keeps making, for if the people were religiously united, the only testimonies remaining of those relatively peaceful times are these big buildings. [...]

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