Jager, Eric 1957-
JAGER, Eric 1957-
PERSONAL: Born 1957. Education: Calvin College, B.A., 1979; University of Michigan, M.A., 1982, Ph.D., 1987.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Council of Learned Societies research fellow, 1996–97.
The Book of the Heart, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2000.
The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to journals, including Studies in Philology and Chronicle of Higher Education. Member of editorial board, Viator.
SIDELIGHTS: A professor of medieval literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, Eric Jager specializes in English and continental literature of the period, as well as literary theory. He put this background to use in his first book-length publication, The Tempter's Voice: Language and the Fall in Medieval Literature, in which he examines how the literature of the Middle Ages made the biblical story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden a central and dominant Western myth. Reviewing that work in Medium Aevum, Norm Klassen felt Jager's work "benefits from wide-ranging structuralist, poststructuralist, and feminist interest in Augustinian theories of language and the Fall." Despite some criticism of avenues left unexplored, Klassen concluded, "Jager has identified and developed many important issues regarding language and the Fall, and has offered many perceptive observations."
In The Book of the Heart Jager examines various medieval metaphors for self-identity, especially the central position the heart takes in Western thought and literature. Writing in Isis, David A. Kronick noted that "the author traces the use of the heart as a metaphor from its origins in classical Greek literature through the writings of St. Augustine, the work of the medieval scribes, the troubadours, and the Christian saints." Jager examines how the heart developed as a metaphor for the center of intellect and emotion, looking closely at how the invention of the printing press helped solidify this metaphorical role. E.A. Jones, writing in the Modern Language Review, found The Book of the Heart an "ambitious project," and went on to praise this "fascinating and ground-breaking book that … will surely inspire … further work." For Helen Cooper, reviewing the same title in Modern Philology, "Jager's book combines the virtues of giving us material which we recognize as true even though we have probably never consciously registered it … and extensions of the metaphor that stretch the imagination considerably more." Cooper went on to commend The Book of the Heart as "that rare thing, a book on literary and cultural themes that can be read with pleasure and profit by intelligent readers at large." Further praise came from a reviewer in Medium Aevum, who pronounced Jager's work "important and thought-provoking."
Jager achieved a degree of crossover success with The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France. The book was published not by a university press, but by a main-stream house, and is, as a critic for Kirkus Reviews observed, a "high-suspense account of a duel to the death." This duel was fought between a fourteenth-century knight and squire, former friends, over the rape of the knight's wife. Sanctioned by the French crown, this battle to the death was witnessed by thousands, for the winner would be declared the innocent party. Thus, if the knight lost, his wife, too, would die, for perjury. Many praised this work for its readability. For example, the Kirkus Reviews contributor described the book as a "splendid piece of popular history," and noted that Jager writes with "the skill of an accomplished thriller author." Robert C. Joens, reviewing the title in Library Journal, commended this "vivid re-creation" for providing a "painstakingly documented picture of courtly love, pride, dishonor, and judgment." However, William Brett, writing in the Spectator, was less impressed, commenting that Jager's narrative fictional techniques often "frustrate the reader." For Brett, "this experiment hasn't worked." Others were more positive in their assessments. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called The Last Duel "a riveting account that will satisfy general readers and historians alike," and Booklist contributor Gavin Quinn found it "as enthralling and engrossing as any about a high-profile celebrity scandal today."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2004, Gavin Quinn, review of The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France, p. 24.
Isis, June, 2003, David A. Kronick, review of The Book of the Heart, p. 340.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2004, review of The Last Duel, p. 672.
Library Journal, June 1, 2000, Karen E.S. Lempert, review of The Book of the Heart, p. 124; September 15, 2004, Robert C. Joens, review of The Last Duel, p. 68.
Medium Aevum, spring, 1996, Norm Klassen, review of The Tempter's Voice: Language and the Fall in Medieval Literature, p. 113; fall, 2001, Lesley Smith, review of The Book of the Heart, p. 309; spring, 2003, review of The Book of the Heart, p. 180.
Modern Language Review, July, 2002, E.A. Jones, review of The Book of the Heart, pp. 785-786.
Modern Philology, May, 2002, Helen Cooper, review of The Book of the Heart, p. 587.
Publishers Weekly, March 25, 2002, John F. Baker, review of The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime and Punishment, p. 14; July 26, 2004, review of The Last Duel, p. 47.
Spectator, January 1, 2005, William Brett, review of The Last Duel, p. 26.
University of California, Los Angeles, Department of English Web site, http://www.english.ucla.edu/ (May 31, 2005), "Eric Jager, Professor."