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The uses of self-publication in late medieval England

When:Mo 18-03-2013 at 14:30

PhD-ceremony: Mr. R.G. Critten, 14.30 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Dissertation: The uses of self-publication in late medieval England

Promotor(s): prof. S.I. Sobecki

Faculty: Arts

Book making in the Middle Ages was a complex manual skill that required specialized tools, a suitable working space, and a ready supply of costly materials such as parchment and ink. For this reason, most medieval authors relied on professional copyists to produce the final versions of their texts. Rory Critten’s thesis examines the work of five Middle English authors who buck this trend: Thomas Hoccleve (d. 1426), Margery Kempe (d. after 1438), John Capgrave (d. 1464), Charles of Orleans (d. 1465), and George Ashby (d. 1475). These writers present themselves as their own scribes with a marked insistence. Since they depict themselves writing from positions of social or material disadvantage – Hoccleve and Kempe must correct compromising gossip, Capgrave must rally support for the religious order to which he belongs and Charles and Ashby are prisoners intent upon their liberation – their focus on their self-publication constitutes an important aspect of their professed marginality: they do not have access to independent scribal labour. Nevertheless, Critten contends, by emphasizing their bibliographic agency these writers also attempt to enhance the credibility of their texts. If the manuscript record contains little that suggests the broader success of their writings, the pose they adopt as self-conscious expositors of their book making practices differentiates them from most twenty-first-century self-publishers, who are typically reluctant to highlight their role in the reproduction of their texts. It is thus through comparison with modern self-publication strategies that, finally, Critten attempts to demonstrate the originality of the work of these fifteenth-century authors.

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