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  • Printers without Borders: Translation and Textuality in the Renaissance by A. E. B. Coldiron
  • Mark Rankin (bio)
Printers without Borders: Translation and Textuality in the Renaissance. By A. E. B. Coldiron. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2015. xv + 339 pp. £65. isbn 978 1 107 07317 3.

This is a book about translation and book history, about translators and printers, and about how they together shaped the trajectory of English literature between William Caxton’s earliest enterprise, during the 1470s, and the late sixteenth century. A. E. B. Coldiron offers a compelling challenge to traditional source-influence models of literary history, by showing how printers and translators negotiated the sense of the foreign and England’s place within a polyglot European intellectual and textual society. The book is organized around a series of case-studies. These reveal translators grappling with the comparative paucity of England’s vernacular creative tradition while at the same time seeking ingenious ways to position the English language as a viable participant in wider cultural and literary-aesthetic debates. The book also shows how printers manipulated paratext, such as prefaces, typefaces, and mis-en-page, in order to accentuate and negotiate these very senses of the foreign. Along the way, Coldiron explores the specific relationship among diverse languages, especially English vis-à-vis French and Latin; prominent genres, literary modes, and poetic forms common in those and other vernaculars; and material textual features present in the printed books (and broadsheets) that contain translated works. By bringing together insights from the overlapping subfields of the history of the book and translation and philological studies, Coldiron convincingly examines the position of vernacular texts within their own received traditions and places both texts and traditions in dialogue around evolving questions of identity and foreignness. The book argues that ‘fundamental phenomena, processes, and patterns of literary change’ (p. 284) and a more ‘accurate picture of what was actually being written, produced, and read’ (p. 283) emerge most clearly when scholars approach the overlapping subjects of early modern translation and the book trade in this fashion.

Printers without Borders begins with discussion of Caxton’s career, and devotes particular attention to the ways in which subsequent printers framed their reprint editions of works that Caxton had translated and himself printed. The first book printed in English, Caxton’s translation of Raoul Lefèvre’s Recuyell of the Hystoryes of Troye (1473), emerged from a specific Burgundian context. It gave meaning to the work’s exploration of the morality of Trojan conflict, and in particular to the problematic position of women as both responsible for conflict (Helen of Troy) and as the book’s dedicatee (Margaret of York). In a dynamic which Coldiron describes as a ‘catenary’ pattern of printed translations, printers use Caxton anachronistically to signify both Burgundy and Troy for English readers, in reprint editions of the Recuyell into the seventeenth century. Caxton’s edition of the Dictes [End Page 451] or Sayengis of the Philosophres (1477) derives originally from an eleventh-century Arabic work; according to his printer’s epilogue, Caxton’s translator, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, omitted a misogynistic passage said to be by Socrates, which Caxton duly restored to his edition. As he does so, both gender and the representation of Socrates as a ‘foreign’ sage frame Caxton’s interest in wider issues of social and textual authority. Shifting uses of paratext in Caxton’s printed translation (1483) of Alain Chartier’s anti-court Le Curial, and a 1549 edition of the same, reveal printers adapting the work to differing, partisan topical problems.

The book turns to the Lyon printer Jean de Tournes, and his six near-simultaneous printed vernacular translations of Claude Paradin’s Quadrins historiques de la Bible (1553), a figure-book consisting of illustrations and poems from Genesis and Exodus. In his version, Peter Derendel, translator of the True and Lyuely Historyke Purtreatures of the Woll Bible (1553), explicitly defends English on a par with the vernacular languages of Europe. Coldiron explores differences of tone and specific nationally-informed literary debates mentioned by each translator as a means of framing the book for specific language markets. Such ‘radiant’ transnationalism allows the printer to...


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pp. 451-453
Launched on MUSE
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