Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Middle-Class Writing in Late Medieval London

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Middle-Class Writing in Late Medieval London

Article excerpt

Malcolm Richardson, Middle-Class Writing in Late Medieval London, The History of the Book 7 (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2011). xi + 243 pp. ISBN 978-1848-93032-2. £60.00.

Malcolm Richardson's contribution to the recent interest in the documentary culture of the later Middle Ages is a study which explores the genres and forms of non-literary writing practised from the late thirteenth to the early sixteenth century by a growing and increasingly literate body of urban merchants and artisans. Moving outwards from an opening case study of the numerous documents produced in 1478 by a group of London Merchant Adventurers in response to an incident of piracy in the North Sea, he surveys the major genres of writing undertaken for pragmatic purposes in urban contexts, and explores the ways in which these changed as writing skills became more widespread, and as developments in administrative and bureaucratic practices took effect.

Richardson's interests are socio-linguistic, and he is careful to position his arguments outside the framework of literary history. He concentrates on the ways in which different genres of pragmatic writing served people's needs, and on the rhetorical structures, especially those deriving from the teaching of dictamen, which pervaded these genres. Individual chapters review first the documentary needs of London merchants and artisans, and of their increasingly important guilds; then the major genres of urban business writing, from the individual document to the large collection (with a distinction here between dictaminal and non-dictaminal forms). A third chapter deals specifically with letters, drawing on exchanges between members of the Cely family, some of the Paston letters, and an interesting selection of less well-known letters from The National Archives' body of Ancient Correspondence'. In the final chapter a comparison is drawn between women's letters and what Richardson terms 'citizens' custumals', manuscripts compiled by individual Londoners, such as the grocer Richard Hill, which draw together civic and business documents with more miscellaneous material. …

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