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Reviewed by:
Gillespie, Alexandra. Print Culture and the Medieval Author: Chaucer, Lydgate, and Their Books, 1473–1557. Oxford English Monographs. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN-13: 978-0-19-926295-3; ISBN-10: 0-19-926295-0. $95.00.

Following Adrian Johns and others, Professor Gillespie reconsiders the "revolution" of early print culture. She maps, more precisely than did Chaytor, Eisenstein, or Ong, the continuities and discontinuities in the transition from "manuscript" to "print". She challenges the traditional periodization of "medieval" and "Renaissance", as well as the divide between "incunabular" and a more "mature" print culture (23). Agreeing with Umberto Eco, she declares that history ought not to be a narrative of the wholesale replacement of one system by another, but rather, at any particular moment, a "patch-work of old and new" (8); perceived "trends" are always complicated by particularities that run counter to the "trend" (208).

The first printers in England were working in an established "book culture", continuing and extending the commercialized manuscript production of the fifteenth century; commercialized book production was not the result of the printing press but was the condition that created the need for the invention of movable type. Similarly, the early printers were working with complex ideas of the "author" and of "authority" which they inherited from the Middle Ages, and they gradually developed processes by which "the figure of the medieval writer organizes and markets textual material, assigns it value, licenses it, sanctions it, or marks it out as illicit" (5). On the one hand, then, this is a study in the history of the early printed book, but it is also a study in the early modern reception of medieval writers, particularly Chaucer and Lydgate.

Gillespie's book is thoroughly researched and carefully documented. It is generously illustrated with black-and-white facsimiles, primarily of title pages of books under discussion. Besides a General Index, there are also indices of Manuscripts and of early modern Printed Editions of Texts Ascribed to Chaucer and Lydgate, along with an extensive bibliography.

The book consists of five chapters, with an Introduction and Afterword. The first chapter, "Caxton and Fifteenth-Century English Books", is a study [End Page 136] of Caxton's adoption and adaptation of late medieval commercialized book production, with a particular focus upon his editions of Chaucerian and Lydgatean texts. Chapter 2, "Good Utterance: Printing and Innovation after 1478", continues the narrative into the next generation of printers, Wynkyn de Worde and Richard Pynson, and their expressed desire that printed books provide "good utterance". Chapters 3 and 4 focus upon early sixteenth-century editions of Chaucer and Lydgate, respectively; and Chapter 5 is on the printing of "medieval" authors in the period of the Reformation. Each chapter is subdivided into sections that focus on a set of two or three printed texts, and that explore, with respect to these books, the paratextual references to authors, patrons, and printers; significant details of the woodcuts, especially on title pages; the cultural associations of these texts; and their manuscript precedents. Also, Gillespie pays particular attention to what other texts are bound together in Sammelbände with the texts under discussion, which helps to establish what sorts of associations may have existed in the minds of those who added the bindings (readers in the earlier cases, printers later), and what a particular text may signify within the context of the other texts with which it is conjoined in the creating of a bound "book". Gillespie is primarily interested in the study of early modern "books" as unique and individualized collections of texts that carried a certain cultural currency in the period.

Throughout her book, Gillespie is anxious to ensure that all claims made are precisely qualified and carefully hedged. A typical strategy is particularly well illustrated on pp. 156–57 though it is ubiquitous: a claim is made for the significance of some group of texts and then a sentence begins with "however" to add the necessary qualifications. With respect to the cultural capital of an author's name, for instance, Gillespie notes that printers made use of the names of authors to make certain kinds of claims for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1933-7418
Print ISSN
1559-2936
Pages
pp. 136-139
Launched on MUSE
2008-11-11
Open Access
No
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