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Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres

The Education of Henry Adams, Chanson de Roland

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Edgar Mittelholzer Biography to Mr Norris Changes Trains

a historical study by Henry (Brooks) Adams, privately printed in 1904 and published in 1913. Conceived of as the companion volume to The Education of Henry Adams, Adams saw the book as being the start of a larger study of the role of historical forces and motions. By focusing on the period 1150 to 1250, he chose ‘the point of history when man held the highest idea of himself as a unit in a unified universe’ and thus provided a point of contrast with his own times. Through a detailed description of the powerful and magnificent architecture of Mont-Saint-Michel, he presents the dominant intellectual and theological attitude of the period as being committed to a unified reaction to the universe. This is best expressed by his understanding of the Virgin as a symbol of unity. This unity is then related to other works of the time: the soaring Gothic cathedrals, especially that of Chartres, and their stained glass windows; the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas; the Chanson de Roland; the tradition of courtly love; and the work of prominent figures of the time, among them Eleanor of Aquitaine, Peter Abelard, and St Francis of Assisi. This effort to synthesize different manifestations of the same phenomenon is not only remarkable in itself, but also symptomatic of one of the larger American intellectual ambitions of the twentieth century.

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