"Here is the first full translation into English of one of the 20th century's few undoubted classics of history." --Washington Post Book World The Autumn of the Middle Ages is Johan Huizinga's classic portrait of life, thought, and art in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century France and the Netherlands. Few who have read this book in English realize that The Waning of the Middle Ages, the only previous translation, is vastly different from the original Dutch, and incompatible will all other European-language translations. For Huizinga, the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century marked not the birth of a dramatically new era in history--the Renaissance--but the fullest, ripest phase of medieval life and thought. However, his work was criticized both at home and in Europe for being "old-fashioned" and "too literary" when The Waning of the Middle Ages was first published in 1919. In the 1924 translation, Fritz Hopman adapted, reduced and altered the Dutch edition--softening Huizinga's passionate arguments, dulling his nuances, and eliminating theoretical passages. He dropped many passages Huizinga had quoted in their original old French. Additionally, chapters were rearranged, all references were dropped, and mistranslations were introduced. This translation corrects such errors, recreating the second Dutch edition which represents Huizinga's thinking at its most important stage. Everything that was dropped or rearranged has been restored. Prose quotations appear in French, with translations preprinted at the bottom of the page, mistranslations have been corrected. "The advantages of the new translation are so many. . . . It is one of the greatest, as well as one of the most enthralling, historical classics of the twentieth century, and everyone will surely want to read it in the form that was obviously intended by the author." --Francis Haskell, New York Review of Books "A once pathbreaking piece of historical interpretation. . . . This new translation will no doubt bring Huizinga and his pioneering work back into the discussion of historical interpretation." --Rosamond McKitterick, New York Times Book Review
This brilliant portrait of the life, thought, and art in France and the Netherlands in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is our most trenchant study of that crucial moment in history when the Middle Ages gave way to the great energy of the Renaissance. From an analysis of the dominating ideas of the times – those that held the medieval world together, supported its religion and informed its art and literature – emerges the style of a whole culture at the extreme limit of its development.
The writing/translation flows magnificently as Huizinga covers topics such as: the passionate intensity of life, the static social structure, failure of knighthood, the preoccupation of death and fear of life, power of religious imagery, the dualism of piety and worldliness, a failure of imagination and art and literature. Huizinga takes a bleak view of the period and says at the end of the first chapter:
"It is an evil world. The fires of hatred and violence burn fiercely. Evil is powerful, the devil covers a darkened earth with his black wings. And soon the end of the world is expected. But mankind does not repent, the church struggles, and the preachers and poets warn and lament in vain."
Huizinga warns us that to understand the culture the reader should transpose his/her thoughts into the minds of the the medievals' and no matter how incomprehensible they are to us we must accept them. The real strength of the book is the attempt to see the world through the eyes of the participants in the history. We learn that they are intensely passionate, cruel aggressive but easily reduced to tears, a belief that God made the world good but man's sinfulness has made it miserable, a mind stuffed with religious imagery and proverbs preventing critical thought and a propensity to take every thought and argument to the highest level (God)
This book has given me an insight to books that I have recently read on this period I have a better understanding of why King Edward III was so intent on securing his French territories and why Chaucer wrote the way he did.
The book was first published in 1919 and academic study of the late middle ages has moved on since then. This is no reason to ignore this marvellous book which gives a view of the period that still has plenty to offer.