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  • Reading Material in Early Modern England: Print, Gender, and Literacy
  • Phyllis R. Brown
Heidi Brayman Hackel . Reading Material in Early Modern England: Print, Gender, and Literacy. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xii + 322 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. $75. ISBN: 0–521–84251–4.

Heidi Brayman Hackel's Reading Material in Early Modern England analyzes "the constructions and practices of less extraordinary readers [than well-known men such as Ben Jonson and Gabriel Harvey], who often remain visible in the historical record only because of their occasional traces in books" (8). Chapter 1 establishes contexts (historiographical and theoretical), scope (the period between the 1530s and 1640), and methods, drawing attention to organizational strategies derived from the mock-fictional reading in Sir John Harington's Apologie (1596). Chapters 2 and 3 provide a detailed survey of much that is known about reading and writing in the early modern period, seasoned with new insights and suggestions; chapters 4 and 5 break new ground.

Chapter 2 approaches reading practices in the context of "the great Variety of Readers" addressed by John Heminge and Henry Condell in the prefatory matter of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, resisting "the category of 'the Reader' as a singular, uniform actor within a culture" and as "an essentialized, ahistorical subject" (18). Brayman Hackel analyzes scenes involving books and readers in early modern plays, and historical evidence ranging from teaching practices to household practices that gave a variety of readers, including artisans and servants, access to texts — both manuscript and print.

Chapter 3 examines the critical apparatus of early modern books as evidence of anxiety associated with "increasing abecedarian literacy and the proliferation of printed books in early modern England" (69) and with other kinds of "bad" readers, who can be assumed to constitute the opposites of the courteous, friendly, and gentle readers addressed. Synthesizing a vast amount of scholarship on early modern printing practices and on particular books, Brayman Hackel identifies in the prefatory and marginal materials of the books she examines "a willingness to transform bad readers" and "the beginnings of the collapse of the rigid sex- and class-based distinctions . . . that had restricted so many readers' access to books" (124-25). The chapter concludes with perceptive analysis of the complexity, power, and range of purpose of printed marginalia. [End Page 274]

Folio volumes of Sir Philip Sidney's The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia published between 1593 and 1674, and quarto editions of Robert Greene's Greenes Arcadia. or Menaphon: Camillas Alarum to Slumbering Euphues, are the main focus of chapter four. After summarizing and analyzing what is known about readers' responses to the two Arcadias, Brayman Hackel examines handwritten annotations in the books that have survived, including readers' handwritten indexes to Sidney's Arcadia, and four intact commonplace books with entries from or references to Sidney's and Greene's Arcadia. From these traces, Brayman Hackel shows, "a history of the readings of the Arcadia can emerge" (156). Significantly, both marginalia and transcription are as much about writing as they are about reading because "as they write, these readers leave traces of their engagement with and appropriation of early modern texts" (195).

In the final chapter Brayman Hackel turns to evidence that contributes to a history of readers who were less likely to be writers either because they lacked the requisite skill or because they were forbidden to do so, focusing on Anne (Clifford) Pembroke and Frances (Stanley) Egerton, who "created unusual and enduring records of their relations to books" (221). Looking beyond the more usual evidence of book ownership, Brayman Hackel analyzes the evidence of a Clifford family portrait and Lady Egerton's library as documented in "A Catalogue of my Ladies Books at London." Brayman Hackel demonstrates that "Clifford made books — arguably more than anything else in her life — her companions" (240) and that Egerton's library catalogue "reveals a woman who emerges as altogether more vigorous and educated than she seems in her contemporaries' portrayals" of her (244). She concludes that "fragmentary glimpses of multiple readers at single moments in their reading lives," such as the ones she foregrounds throughout her book, suggest a more...


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pp. 274-275
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Archived 2009
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