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  • Controlling Readers: Guillaume De Machaut and His Late Medieval Audience
  • Jeanette Patterson (bio)
Deborah L. McGrady. Controlling Readers: Guillaume De Machaut and His Late Medieval Audience. Studies in Book and Print Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006. 310 pages.

Guillaume de Machaut's Livre du voir dit has frequently been studied in light of its insight into medieval notions of authorship, literary and musical composition, and book production. Deborah McGrady's Controlling Readers: Guillaume de Machaut and his Late Medieval Audience complements such scholarship with a comprehensive study of his work from the opposite perspective, that is, in terms of its readers. Combining Jaussian reception theory's reader-centered approach to the generation of meaning with new philology's insistence upon the co-authorial role of all participants in manuscript production, McGrady examines active readers' appropriation of Machaut's text and authority in complementary and contradictory ways. The Voir dit is especially well suited for such a study; not only does its plot revolve around acts of reading and writing, interpretive performance, and an author's anxieties before readers poised to read (or misread), alter, perform, and distribute his works, but self-conscious assertions and direct addresses to the reader further seek to direct the reading experience. With a rich storehouse of themes to draw upon within the narrative and its complex interior web of documents, McGrady expands her inquiry to map out how the Voir dit's problems of readership and authorial control are reproduced by actual readers as evidenced in manuscripts, references to its reception, and later responses and adaptations.

McGrady's structured approach to readership in, of, and through the Voir dit identifies three categories of readers: inscribed, intermediary, and inventive. The first of these categories, that of inscribed readers, refers to representations of fictional readers within Machaut's "hybrid" work. Intermediary readers are defined as participants in the text's transmission such as editors, scribes, artists, bookmakers, etc. who, in reading and reproducing it, seek to facilitate reception of the text, preparing it in a format conforming to the expectations of envisioned readers while making minimal changes to the authoritative text. From intermediary readers McGrady distinguishes a second class [End Page 932] of reading authors who disrupt the smooth transition from author to reader by assertively interpreting and rewriting the text to their own ends, producing commentaries, adaptations and remaniements. While admitting a fluid spectrum of active readership, McGrady analyzes manuscripts of and reactions to the Voir dit within the framework of these categories. The three parts of her book correspond respectively to discussions of inscribed, intermediary and inventive readers.

Following an introduction providing historical and theoretical context and laying out the book's project and structure, Part I (chapters 1–2) begins with a chapter devoted to meditative and didactic reading strategies developed in monastic and scholastic settings and their adaptation to a growing lay readership in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. As evidence for the vulgarization of these models, McGrady traces the transference of monastic and scholastic book iconography to illuminations and narratives of reading within lay devotional and secular literature, where romances and love letters become objects of intense contemplation in private chambers and authors are frequently represented as university masters imparting wisdom to reading "students."

Chapter 2 investigates how the Voir dit's inscribed readers respond to and resist their roles of contemplative devotees and submissive students, becoming a source of anxiety and conflict for the narrating poet Guillaume. This authorial double, writing the very book we are reading, faces competition from his lady (an admiring reader and "student" turned co-author, editor, patron and performer) and, through her, the unauthorized dissemination and oral performance of his writings. After gradually losing control to his reader/lady Toute-Belle, listening crowds, and rumormongers, Guillaume attempts to recover his authority, McGrady argues, by progressively excluding Toute-Belle and her texts from the narrative, while also excluding casual listeners (both internal and external) by inserting cryptic details and cross-references dependent upon careful examination of the page and perusal of the book. Departing from previous scholarship suggesting an open multiplicity of meanings in the Voir dit's anagrams, Chapter 2 concludes by...


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