Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France

Article excerpt

Joyce Coleman, Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 26 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). xiv + 250 pp.; 10 plates. ISBN 0-5215 5391-l. L37.50.

This is a book with a clear thesis: `public reading was a common practice among the upper-middle and upper-class elite audiences of both France and England until and (in modulated form) beyond the very end of the Middle Ages' (p. xii). If this is so, Joyce Coleman implies throughout the book, then there can have been no 'evolution' from orality to literacy.

To prove this thesis the author first launches a critique of current evolutionary views about orality and literacy: that is, theories that point to literacy evolving from and supplanting orality. Her opening chapter is entitled `Beyond Ong: the bases of a revised theory of orality and literacy'. (In fact the dust-jacket says: `This book offers the first sustained critique of Walter Ong's Orality and Literay'.) She declares that Ong establishes orality and literacy as mutually exclusive, thus laying out a historical sequence which moves from orality, through a transitional period, to a literacy which extinguishes all but 'residual' orality. This final stage, she says, seems never to have been reached.

After a chapter to establish a new terminology for her study, and another outlining the methodology for an `ethnography of reading', Coleman turns to what she terms `aural history' - historical descriptions of recreational reading of secular vernacular texts in England and France. …

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