This article explores the ways bibles are used, marked, annotated, and damaged, and what the evidence of marked bibles might contribute to book history in the nineteenth century. It offers a case study from nineteenth-century English prisons, comparing Elizabeth Fry’s annotated bible with a bible probably used by prisoners in Newgate, and with a bible transformed into playing cards in a Norfolk bridewell. These book-objects can be illuminated by analytical techniques borrowed from scholars of marginalia and of reading. The Bible offers a complex puzzle for book historians, in that it is often freighted with expectations, with a sense of sacredness—but it is also more ubiquitous than many books, and can seem simply like part of the furniture. Fry’s bible, and those used by prisoners, show signs of attentive reading, and of other kinds of handling. The material object provides a way into the experiences of a reading (or non-reading) community who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to leave traces of their experiences and their stories.


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pp. 381-404
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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