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Reviewed by:
  • Opening Up Middle English Manuscripts by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, Maidie Hilmo, and Linda Olson
  • Sarah Kathryn Moore
Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, Maidie Hilmo, and Linda Olson, Opening Up Middle English Manuscripts (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2012) 416 pp., 205 ill.

A companion to Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham’s Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Cornell University Press 2007), Opening Up Middle English Manuscripts is a must-have for scholars of medieval English literature. Whereas the former is intended for those working primarily with medieval Latin manuscripts, the latter is focused solely on Middle English texts, making it an invaluable resource for students, scholars, and interested laypeople. The book’s authors stress that the book is meant to function as “an introduction” rather than a “survey” and has been written for what they call “tiers of readers … both new and advanced.” As such, the volume contains both general/introductory [End Page 288] chapters as well as “case studies” of particular manuscripts. A very helpful “Glossary of Key Manuscript Terminology” (unusually preceding, rather than following, the body of the book) provides references to places where the terms are used within the book’s chapters.

Chapter 1 is preceded by a lengthy prologue entitled “The Front Plates: Transcriptions, Scripts, and Descriptive Analysis for Learning to Read Literary Texts on the Manuscript Page.” This prologue includes practical instruction on transcribing Middle English manuscripts, a relatively brief aside noting the differences between a transcription and an edition, and a number of example plates meant to provide some scope of the most common scripts found in Middle English literary texts (including Gothic textura, Anglicana formata, and Secretary). After this prologue, chapter 1 introduces “Major Middle English Poets and Manuscript Studies, 1300–1450” by providing an overview of the landscape of late medieval poetry in English in its manuscript context. A number of other “introductory” topics are gestured toward here, including “assessing emendation in a modern edition,” the rise of book production and professional scribes, and issues of dialect. Chapter 2—entitled “Romancing the Book: Manuscripts for ‘Euerich Inglische’”—moves from poetry to romance in addressing the Auchinleck manuscript, Arthurian legends, and issues of reader-ship and class. Attention is also paid here to individual scribes whose work can be tracked across multiple manuscripts.

Chapter 3 (“The Power of Images in the Auchinleck, Vernon, Pearl and Two Piers Plowman Manuscripts”) zeroes in even more closely than the previous chapters on individual manuscripts. This is also the first chapter in the book to devote serious and sustained attention to visual literacy and “reading” the images that accompany many of these texts. Short summaries of each manuscript include historical context, brief paleological and codicological notes, and summaries of selected texts within the manuscript with especial attention paid to embedded images as well as the interplay between image and text. Chapter 4 (“Professional Readers at Work: Annotators, Editors and Correctors in Middle English Literary Texts”) examines the many faces of medieval marginalia, including numerous images as well as several tables modeling how to document and compare glosses in variant texts.

Chapters 5 and 6 narrow even further in scope to examine two groups of texts in both manuscript and historical contexts. Chapter 5 (“Illuminating Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: Portraits of the Author and Selected Pilgrim Authors”) tackles the numerous manuscripts of portions of the Canterbury Tales and explores issues ranging from scribes to border decorations. Chapter 6 (“‘Swete Cordyall’ of ‘Lytterature’: Some Middle English Manuscripts from the Cloister”) examines vernacular texts (from several genres) intended for (and sometimes authored by) cloistered women.

The volume concludes with extensive citations as well as illustration credits and both a Manuscript and a General Index. Additionally, the volume contains over 200 color illustrations, which will be of interest to literary and art historians alike. Overall, this volume is a useful reference for the experienced scholar and a must for any medievalist working in English literary studies with even a passing interest in paleography and codicology. [End Page 289]

Sarah Kathryn Moore
English, University of Washington


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pp. 288-289
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