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  • The Genesis of Books: Studies in the Scribal Culture of Medieval England in Honour of A. N. Doane by Matthew T. Hussey and John D. Niles, eds
  • Helen Appleton
Hussey, Matthew T. and John D. Niles, eds, The Genesis of Books: Studies in the Scribal Culture of Medieval England in Honour of A. N. Doane (Studies in the Early Middle Ages, 9), Turnhout, Brepols, 2012; hardback; pp. 359; 23 b/w, 17 colour illustrations, 2 b/w tables; R.R.P. €115.00; ISBN 9782503534732.

Scholars of Anglo-Saxon literature are indebted to A. N. ‘Nick’ Doane, who retired from the English department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2006, for his editions of the poems Genesis A, Genesis B, and the Old Saxon Genesis, and for instituting (with the late Phillip Pulsiano) the Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Microfiche Facsimile project. This international collaborative endeavour aims to generate descriptions and facsimiles of every manuscript containing Old English. Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Microfiche Facsimile has proved to be an invaluable resource, particularly for scholars based some considerable geographic remove from the original manuscripts. It is fitting that this volume should focus on scribal culture as it not only reflects Nick Doane’s own research interests, but also presents work facilitated by the project he shepherds. [End Page 246]

Although the title of this collection suggests a focus on the scribal culture of medieval England more widely, it is substantially devoted to the Anglo-Saxon era and to vernacular texts, reflecting the principal research interests of its dedicatee. The editors, Matthew Hussey and John Niles, provide a well-structured introduction which addresses influential theoretical approaches to scribal culture in relation to Doane’s own work, before outlining the focus of each contributor’s chapter and its potential to stimulate new research. The arrangement of the book is very broadly chronological. The twelve chapters, some of which originate from a 2007 event held in Doane’s honour at the University of Wisconsin, range widely within the area of focus. Some essays present fresh perspectives on the best-known Anglo-Saxon vernacular manuscripts, while others explore more neglected texts or consider the consequences of editorial practice for our appreciation of scribal culture.

The aptness of the collection’s title is apparent from the recurrent emphasis in all the essays on the potential of careful manuscript analysis to offer new understandings of the origins of texts and traditions. Michelle Brown opens the collection with a richly illustrated examination of relations between the Christian Middle East and the Insular world. Kathryn Lynch focuses on three charms for the mysterious ailment dweorh in MS Harley 585 as related performances, while Niles offers an elegant and persuasive solution to the principal interpretative cruxes of the Fonthill Letter and uses the problem posed by spor wreclas to illuminate the circumstances of the letter’s composition. In his chapter on the Blickling Homilies, Jonathan Wilcox considers the implied audience for the homilies as performances and posits Lincoln as a possible place of origin. Continuing the theme of manuscript and performance, Patrick Connor conjectures a relationship between the Exeter Book and guild feasts.

The Exeter Book remains the focus in Brian O’Camb’s essay, which marks a shift in the focus of the collection from performance to textual relationships and manuscript stemmata. Studying the Exeter Book’s layout enables O’Camb to postulate the appearance of the exemplar used for certain sections, and to argue for scribal practice as the source of the echoing statements usually regarded as evidence of a gnomic wisdom tradition. The structure and arrangement of the Vercelli Book is subjected to a detailed analysis in Peter Lucas’s essay, contributing to the ongoing discussion of its origins. Hussey’s scrutiny of the Canterbury Psalter’s Old English glosses allows him to suggest the circumstances which led to their vestigial nature, offering insights into the scribal culture of twelfth-century Christ Church, Canterbury. Karl Reichl’s extensive chapter on the Middle English secular lyric, a revised version of scholarship previously only available in German, [End Page 247] gathers together the fragmentary evidence to chart the beginnings of the form and expose the milieu in...


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