In Manuscripts, Market, and the Transition to Print in Late Medieval Brittany, Diane Booton attempts to trace the development of book creation from late medieval manuscript production to early printing in the late fourteenth century through a focus on case studies of texts and bookmakers in Brittany. This volume demonstrates an impressive array of research and comes with numerous illustrations and graphics, and it also has a significant amount of statistical and technical data. But at a relatively brief length of just over two hundred pages, the body of this volume may have attempted to do too much in too little space and could have benefited from a more focused thesis and a more cohesive argument.
As she mentions in the introduction, Booton focuses the first half of her monograph on the “production and commerce of manuscripts and printed books” (3) through the aspects of parchment creation, patronage for bookmakers, identification of manuscript makers, and identification of manuscripts in the context of Brittany (12). As she notes early in chapter 1, this seems like a considerable amount of ground to cover, and indeed as the chapter progresses Booton briefly surveys these topics all the while including large amounts of historical information that frequently seem to derail the ostensible focus of the chapter and larger project of the book. Chapter 1 has three tables of very specific and technical information and a 3-page list of manuscripts with bibliographic descriptions. As is the case with the rest of the volume, chapter 1 reads more like a reference work and less like an opening chapter of a critical argument.
In chapter 2, “The Illuminated Page,” Booton focuses her attention on “an examination of certain codicological, iconographic, and stylistic features” (39), focusing primarily on works by the Orleans Master. This chapter includes 29 black and white images of beautiful manuscript pages but opens with a list of eight manuscripts with bibliographical and historical descriptions. Well into the chapter Booton gets closer to an argument when she writes that “manuscripts demonstrate the business connections in the book trade that crossed political boundaries,” but this argument does not see full development in the few remaining pages of this chapter.
While the first two chapters are packed with technical data bordering on the esoteric, chapters 3 and 4 begin to solidify a concrete direction for the volume. In chapter 3: “Printing and the Market,” Booton turns to a discussion of early printing in late fifteenth-century Brittany and successfully demonstrates the [End Page 166] “critical role of book contractors and publishers, who functioned as business intermediaries between a prospective buyer and printer, or printer and bookseller” (99). Nevertheless, this is undermined by the acknowledgement that printing in Brittany during this period was “modest in output” (98), which begs the question of whether a chapter on such output can add anything to a study of print culture. In chapter 4: “Ducal Patronage and Ownership,” Booton argues that “acquisitions, sources, and textual and visual evidence in the books and manuscripts help to expand our picture of social constraints, religious attitudes, and cultural mores in the late medieval duchy of Brittany” (126). This chapter gets closer to making a clear contribution based on the enormous amount of research reflected in this volume.
Booton betrays one of the potential issues with this volume in chapter 5: “Breton Book Collectors,” when she writes that “Four manuscript copies of the popular and widely read romance, Le Roman de la rose, written by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun can be identified with their former owners” (202). As the subject matter of this volume is particularly specialized it is strange that Booton would not assume the reader would know the names of the authors of one of the most famous medieval romances. In addition, Booton mentions this text earlier in the volume but does not include the authors’ names until this comment in the final chapter. The question of audience rings clear here, and the volume might have benefited from some more thoughtful consideration of how to...