Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Printing the Middle Ages

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Printing the Middle Ages

Article excerpt

Siân Echard, Printing the Middle Ages, Material Texts (Philadelphia, Pa: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). xvii + 314 pp. ISBN 978- 0-8122- 4091- 7. $65.00.

I enjoyed reading Siân Echard's Printing the Middle Ages a great deal. The breezy anecdotalism of Echard's exhibits is immensely entertaining. I was always fascinated by the rich detail in which she presents her examples. Sandwiched between an introduction and coda, Echard offers up five instances, stretching from incunables to the present, of printing medieval texts. In order, she discusses the use of facsimile types in the presentation of Old English (initially associated with Matthew Parker); the illustrative cycles developed to accompany the romances Berns of Hampton and Guy of Warwick, their diverse origins and fates; a Gower family's investment in the texts of John Gower; presentations of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in children's books; and the increasing 'Englishness' of the printed Froissart. At the head, as a focusing instance of those confusions that beset the other enterprises here described, Echard offers the print history of the ploughing image of Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.3.14 (a copy of Piers Plowman A). The concluding 'coda', one of the most perspicacious pieces of the book, considers contemporary digital reproduction.

As I say, I found Echard's volume gready entertaining. Yet at the same time, I doubt very much whether it has much to recommend it to readers of this journal. First of all, Echard explicidy treats 'medievalism', the reception of medieval texts in later contexts, many avowedly eccentric (aristocratic pretension or kiddie Chaucer). As book history properly does, she addresses the 'representation' of medieval objects (texts and images), but more than many scholars in this area, she offers relatively little purchase on the objects themselves. In this process, Echard is frequendy less prescient than earlier scholars whose work she knows (e. …

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