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The Immaterial Book

Reading and Romance in Early Modern England

Sarah Wall-Randell

Publication Year: 2013

In romances—Renaissance England’s version of the fantasy novel—characters often discover books that turn out to be magical or prophetic, and to offer insights into their readers’ selves. The Immaterial Book examines scenes of reading in important romance texts across genres: Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and The Tempest, Wroth’s Urania, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It offers a response to “material book studies” by calling for a new focus on imaginary or “immaterial” books and argues that early modern romance authors, rather than replicating contemporary reading practices within their texts, are reviving ancient and medieval ideas of the book as a conceptual framework, which they use to investigate urgent, new ideas about the self and the self-conscious mind.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

This is a book about imaginary books, and the assistance of many people has been required for it to make its own leap from imaginariness to reality. At the very beginning of this project’s life, Marjorie Garber, Barbara Lewalski, and Stephen Greenblatt oversaw my research and helped me ask the right questions. Near the end, several scholars offered crucial advice, whether small or...


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-18

The scene: a hero in an early modern romance is on a journey. The stakes are high; at one point, the prospects for future happiness seemed enormous, and perhaps success is still within reach, but nothing is certain. Along the way, there have been disappointments, delays, and reversals, suffering and doubt. But now the hero finds himself (or herself) in some extraordinary setting—perhaps he...

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1. “Antiquities, Which No Body Can Know”: Spenser’s Books and the Romance of the Past

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pp. 19-46

Amid the most basic premises of The Faerie Queene as a literary project, among the necessary preconditions of its creation, lies an idea about books: the assumption that books are a powerful medium for transmitting knowledge. “The generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline,” Spenser says, in the most remembered...

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2. Dreaming of the Book in Cymbeline

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pp. 47-75

Near the end of Cymbeline, in a burst of thunder and lightning, the Roman god Jupiter descends, a literal deus ex machina, to begin the turn of the play from tragedy to comedy.1 He presents the despairing Posthumus, who is languishing in prison and wishing for death, with a book that offers a riddling prophecy of a happy ending for Posthumus himself and for the British nation. The giving...

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3. “Volumes That I Prize”: The Spaces of the Book and the Mind in The Tempest

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pp. 76-104

The Tempest is a play explicitly shaped by books but in which no book explicitly appears. As several critics have recently noticed, while Prospero’s book is central to the action of Shakespeare’s play, it remains a collection of references, an immaterial presence, not an object. The Tempest is “a play about the power of books that refuses to make a spectacle of the book,” as James Kearney puts...

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4. “A Booke Layd By, New Lookt On”: The Romance of Reading in Urania and Don Quixote

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pp. 105-131

Early modern romance is a Janus-faced genre. It looks nostalgically backward, to the medieval past and the tales that accrete around English and Continental chivalric heroes: Arthur, Amadis, Guy, Bevis, Roland. At the same time, it pushes the leading edge in generic experimentation, engendering radically new forms, hybrid species such as tragicomic drama, and developing the mode...

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pp. 132-134

As I proposed in chapter 4, the sealed book in the enchanted theater in Wroth’s Urania calls to mind the book with seven seals in Revelation, perhaps the most book-filled portion of the Bible. There, St. John observes God holding the Book of Truth: “And I sawe in the right hand of him that sate upon the throne, a Boke written within, and on the backeside, sealed with seven seales.”1 Christ...


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pp. 135-164


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pp. 165-178


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pp. 179-183

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029143
E-ISBN-10: 0472029142
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118779
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118773

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 863157661
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Immaterial Book

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Romances, English -- History and criticism.
  • Books and reading in literature.
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