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  • The Book Unbound: Editing and Reading Medieval Manuscripts and Texts
  • Nicholas Watson (bio)
Siân Echard and Stephen Partridge, editors. The Book Unbound: Editing and Reading Medieval Manuscripts and TextsStudies in Book and Print Culture. University of Toronto Press. xxii, 238. $50.00

This collection of eleven essays is a product of the twenty-ninth of the University of British Columbia's series of Medieval Workshops, one of the mainstays of Canadian medieval studies. Editing is a topic of lively interest to medievalists, and a topic to which Canadian medievalists have made signal practical and theoretical contributions over more than a century. Written before the invention of printing and for the ear as much as the eye, medieval texts offer a varied challenge to the assumptions moderns bring to issues of authorship, textual integrity, and hence editorial theory, and an equally varied technical challenge to editorial practice. Several essays in this volume are preoccupied with the issue of how to represent medieval textuality, making it available for modern readers and scholars, either in print or in digital form, without fundamentally compromising its integrity. Editing is, indeed, a field of literary scholarship in which theory and practice are unusually intertwined. As the field has become more self-conscious over the last four decades it has also become more openly pluralistic, to the point that almost every editorial encounter with a next text now seems to involve a new theorization of editing, one responsive (as Tim Machan put it a decade ago) to the way a particular text 'asks' to be edited. This is frustrating for those who think editors should work behind the scenes and not trouble readers with minutiae, as it is for those who like their theories to be as comprehensive as Paul Zumthor and Bernard Cerquiglini's theory of mouvance and variance, around which (as Siân Echard and Stephen Partridge point out in their helpful introduction) many of these essays move. But editors have to deal with more kinds of textual phenomena than any other literary practitioner, and the heterogeneous discipline of their intellectual and practical solutions deserves the respect and attention it here demands.

Several contributors offer retrospective accounts of their own editing practice or preview prospective editions. Anne L. Klink defends the edition of the southern version of Cursor Mundi she completed for Ottawa University Press after the death of Sarah Horrall; Meg Roland, Peter Diehl, and Stephen Reimer make the case, respectively, for a parallel-text edition of parts of Malory's Morte Darthur, an eclectic edition of Zanchino Ugolini's [End Page 238] inquisitorial manual, the Tractatus super materia hereticorum, and a richly contextualizing hypertext edition of Lydgate's Lives of Ss. Edmund and Fremund, a text which absolutely requires its manuscript images. The successes and failures of earlier editors elsewhere come under scrutiny: Julia Marvin offers a particularly sensitive analysis of the late Victorian editor of the Anglo-Norman Year Books of Edward ii, F.W. Maitland; Andrew Taylor asks why editors continue to ignore the acoustic properties of medieval texts, despite all the attention now paid to minutiae of layout; Carol Symes explores the special difficulty of editing a medieval play, The Boy and the Blind Man, whose manuscript tells a complex and partly untraceable story of successive medieval rewriting and performance. Two more technical essays explore the uses of digital media, in one case in the deciphering of a nearly unreadable text (William Schipper on fragments of a fourth-century manuscript of the epistolary of St Cyprian of Carthage), in the other in Web publication (Joan Grenier-Winther on her edition of one of the minor poems in the fifteenth-century Querelle des femmes corpus, La Belle dame qui eut mercy). One essay expresses suspicion of the indefinite expansion of material and readerly choice seductively promised by hypertext: Will Robins's learned argument for a 'disjunctive' editorial practice, in which facing-page editions of a text juxtapose contrasting editorial theories so that the consequences of editorial decision-making and scribal intervention are made visible. Read alongside Echard and Partridge's introduction, Robins makes the best case for a volume such as this, whose mix of methodological reflections...


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