Category Archives: manuscripts

Part II

In the first part of this research project I went over the major strands of inquiry concerned with ordering the Canterbury Tales, describing some of the problems encountered with different theories and methodologies.

I also briefly discussed the argument in favor of the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts. I will begin here stating that despite the many arguments against the Ellesmere ordering, and numerous disputes about its authenticity, its range of uses in anthologies/compilations/general texts speaks to its superiority as a text, if not to its authenticity of intention.

Going back to the idea of tale ordering, recall that the tales do not necessarily move around independently, but rather in groups, or fragments. This simplifies and complicates the process. If the tales move around in fragments, and there are reasons for tales to come in certain orders (i.e. Clerk after Wife), this effects the fragments altogether, moving them as units. Thus only a few relationships can determine how multiple tales move. The complicated part, however, is determining which tales comprise each fragment – something that can be done in two different ways which don’t always or necessarily work well together.

The first way is that of Manly and Rickert, analyzing every extant manuscript and finding the points of general consensus. If a majority of manuscripts depict a certain arrangement into a particular fragment, it makes it appear as though those tales belong together in a grouping. However, just because something is in the majority, does not make it right. The second option is to look at each tale individually and construct (or reconstruct) the fragments according to context. I think a combination of these two methods leads to some interesting results.

As previously mentioned, and sensible enough to where no explanation is needed, all of the manuscripts agree that the General Prologue is the beginning and the Retraction is at the end. N. F Blake asserts that this decision is indicative of a single trip, meaning the scribe(s) involved did not anticipate a return trip from Canterbury, and were certain that the Retraction marked an absolute end. I hate to have to disagree with Blake, especially considering his amazing scholarship in the area, but I have to disagree with one point. While, the Retraction does mark an absolute end, that does not absolutely exclude the idea of a return trip. Even though I am not necessarily a proponent of a return trip due to the small amount of tales we have to work with that hardly even conclude one trip, the Retraction does not (to me) imply that there was not a pre-ending, meaning that at one point along the way there could have been a sort of “conclusion” at Canterbury, followed by more tales, and ending in the Retraction as the finale, presumably back in London. Where this penultimate conclusion would have gone is hard to say, and whether any of the existing tales followed it is even harder.

Similarly, all manuscripts that have the Wife’s Prologue (not all 84 manuscripts include all of the tales) will contain a fragment that starts with it, and includes the Summoner’s and Friar’s tales respectively. These three are part of the larger marriage grouping of seven tales. In the Ellesmere, this is referred to as Fragment III, however, in other manuscripts, as shall be demonstrated, it moves around within the seven.

Note: Simply because the Ellesmere was considered the most authoritative manuscript for a number of years, even when particular manuscripts move the tales around, the numbering remains the same, and the fragments are placed “out of order.” The Ellesmere was considered the primary order and all others were variations. Thus when “Fragment III” is found in a different spot, it is still called “Fragment III.”

Manly and Rickert maintained that the tales were copied one at a time, but since they came out with their theory it has been stipulated that the fragments were copied in completed units, as unbroken series of tales and links that were left in that order by Chaucer, sufficiently clearly identified as complete units to never have been circulated in any other form. However, if you take into account the process of the scribe in between the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts, it becomes unquestionably clear that the order of Ellesmere, while preferable, is not the way in which the tales were acquired or originally linked. Why not and how so?

In order to understand the scribe’s physical process of constructing the Tales, parts of Chaucer’s intentions must be taken into account. While we cannot know for certain what he wanted to do, it is evident that he was trying to arrange the sequence of tales as link-tale-link-tale, with the prologues or end pieces of each teller serving as the links. Unfortunately, many of the tales had no links. If we are to accept the Hengwrt as the prototype manuscript (which I do), within this manuscript we can see that the precedent for the link-tale relationship had been set, and when links were unavailable, in expectation of their existence the scribe left spaces blank before each tale.

This is the order of a section of the tales in Hengwrt manuscript:

Wife of Bath Prologue and Tale
Intro to Man of Law, his tale, and endlink
2nd Nun
Clerk’s Prologue, Clerk’s Tale, Envoy to the Clerk’s Tale
Pardon’er’s Prologue, Pardoner
Chaucer the Pilgrim, Prologue to Sir Thopas
Nun’s Priest
Macniple’s Prologue, Manciple’s Tale
Parson’s Prologue, Parson’s Tale

This is the order in which the Tales were written, meaning, when looking at the inks used, along with penmanship and quire marks, it reflects the order in which the tales were physically transcribed.

Merchant’s Tale
Franklin’s Tale
Nun’s Tale
Clerk’s Tale
Physician’s Tale and Pardoner’s Tale
Shipman’s Tale, Prioress’s Tale, Thopas, Melibee, Monk’s Tale, Nun’s Priest’s Tale
Merchant’s Tale
Wife of Bath, Friar, Summoner

Let’s look at the discrepancy between the Wife and the Clerk. There is a distinct mention of the Wife in the Clerk’s Tale (Envoy). The Clerk’s Tale was physically written first. The first implication here is that the scribe was copying mechanically, and the Hengwrt is not a premeditated manuscript. During the writing of the Clerk’s Tale the scribe does not understand the reference since the Wife’s Prologue has not yet come up. He continues copying until the end, where the Wife finally comes in as part of the last section. By that point it is far too late to reinsert her at an earlier point, so he finishes copying, and the manuscript’s quires are readjusted to move the entire fragment she is in to precede the Clerk. Yet this is a messy job.

Since the same principle scribe who completed the Hengwrt was responsible for the Ellesmere, he learned his lesson, and made the correct readjustments as he completed it, in the process changing the way fragments were arranged. Again, it is not individual tales that move, but entire groups. The Wife had to be before the Clerk. How far before is not determined, so the scribe places the fragment immediately before the Clerk’s Tale when constructing the Ellesmere. Hence the grouping the Wife is in is generally Fragment III, while the Clerk is the first in the sequence for Fragment IV. The second time around, there is no ink variation – after having copied the Hengwrt the scribe was sure enough of himself to write the Ellesmere in one edited stretch.

Note: manuscripts often took many years to complete because it was a painstaking, manual process. However multiple scribes worked on each manuscript in different capacities, so when I state the Ellesmere was written in one stretch, I am not implying it was one long uninterrupted stretch. Also, when I refer to a single hand, I am not referring to any artwork, lettering, or borders, which would not have been completed by the same scribe, copying the actual work. These things were added on later, which is often evident in places where room was left in the writing for intended pictures. And pictures will be important in this argument (only briefly) in a little bit, but my main concern is for the actual writing. Also, this statement does not take into account medieval devotional texts that were primarily picture based with only a few words in the margins, where it was obvious that the pictures were created first. The same scribal practices were not meant to be used across all genres of manuscripts.

Nevertheless, regardless of the order in which the tales were originally written in the Hengwrt (judged by the inks used), the fact that the tales maintain some sort of semblance of order means that even in the Hengwrt there was some original planning, as the final order of the tales places them in accordance to links and references, to a certain extent.

Yet in the Ellesmere there are more links than in the Hengwrts. Where did these come from, and why were some added while others not? No one argues that the Tales (with only a few notable exceptions) are Chaucerian, implying that links were found, meaning the scribe was correct in leaving blank spaces for these. They must have been found in between the creation of the manuscripts leading the scribe to completely abandon the Hengwrts and rework his plan for the Ellesmere before undertaking the project. Most likely, the spacing he left in Hengwrts was insufficient for some of the links he found (an assumption I make by looking at the space that was used in the Ellesmere and comparing it to the space originally left in the Hengwrt, which looks insufficient), and considering there is no break in the Ellesmere, he had everything he though he would ever have before he began writing it. Evidence of his complete abandonment of the Hengwrts lies in the artwork. The first page has the large capital lettering for which space was left, but none of the other fanfare attributed to medieval manuscripts is found on subsequent pages. The project was ended and it became a learning experience and rough draft for the Ellesmere.

Once the scribe realized that certain tales reference others that were not in the “correct” order (and I use quotes because I am hesitant to attribute that much authority to the Ellesmere at this point), groupings were rearranged. This is how Fragment III came to its current position, as it got moved up significantly. Yet even when rearranging the tales the scribe did not tare the Wife away from her grouping, moving the Friar and Summoner along with her, and placing the Clerk as closely following as possible.

In light of the Clerk’s Tale and Envoy, the Merchant, too, had to move to allow for all the weeping and wailing on account of Griselde. Once the Merchant moved, the links had to be adjusted to account for a repositioning of the Squire following the Merchant, followed by the Franklyn, as opposed to the Hengwrt where the Squire, Merchant, Franklin trio were higher up in the ordering. Thus Hengwrt’s “Quod the Merchant” as the Squire’s Tale is interrupted becomes Ellesmere’s “Quod the Frankeleyn.” This is clear scribal intervention to form coherence where the originals were ambiguous.

Unfortunately not all of the groupings are as stable as Fragment III (which is why I chose to begin with it). So, as the tales move in groups, or fragments, and any changes pertaining to one effects all, it is one of the best indications that the individual tales speak to each other, and can continue the discussion only when ordered properly.

This is all I have for now (at the end it will be evident why this must come piecemeal, which I suppose is appropriate considering the topic), and there will be more in the next couple of days.

Like Puzzle Pieces

Who wrote the Canterbury Tales? Of course Chaucer did, and anyone who thinks otherwise is simply being ridiculous (and here I am not in any way referring to the many attempts after his death at continuing or finishing the Tales, but solely the unfinished ones that are undoubtedly attributed to him), but I mean, who actually did the physical writing, and more importantly, what role did they play in the final arrangements of the Tales?

Once the hand written Tales left Chaucer’s desk, during his final days, or shortly after his death, they were left to interpretation and editing. Most scholars working with the manuscripts will be faced with the challenge of tale ordering, as all extant manuscripts, even Ellesmere (most anthologized and found in the Riverside Chaucer and the Norton that every student uses), is fragmentary. The problem, however, goes beyond simple tale ordering into the actual fragments, that through the numerous transcripts (84 known) become practically untraceable.

There is little question in regards to Fragment I, consisting of the General Prologue, and Fragment X with the Retraction, but the middle has yet to be indisputably defined. While different manuscripts rearrange the tales in accordance to theories formed on how the tales should interact, it is important to note who wrote these manuscripts. What evidence is there that any one manuscript accurately replicates authorial intent? As will be noted throughout my exercise here, and what was once noted after reading the Manly-Rickert volumes, analyzing the manuscripts and digging up information leads to more questions than answers.

Not only are some individual tales left unfinished, but the entire work as we have it, even when conflating different versions, is not even remotely complete, and is a small part of a much larger work. So the puzzle is not simply to decipher which works went where, but to anticipate/guess/conclude/(include several more adjective here) what might have been included in between.

The focus can become contextual, in which the relationship between pilgrims establishes the order, in accordance to several factors, including estate, proximity, or personal knowledge based on what is already written. Or the focus may become geographical, insinuating that different tales take their order from the cues of their surroundings (promulgated by Bradshaw and brilliantly and wittily disproved by Donaldson). Others focus on a timeline of when each manuscript could have possibly been written. However, each of these theories has its flaws that impede the assertion of any one dominant ordering to end all further discussion.

The idea that the tales proceed down a narrative arc built on spirituality falls short when considering that there is no definite structure that leads to spirituality from beginning to end, meaning that the tales waiver along a line that approximates spirituality, but not quite. The idea that the tales trace the relationships between pilgrims is questionable in light of the fact that not many are actually made, and the pilgrims spend the majority of their time telling tales or talking about themselves as opposed to actually interacting with each other. The Bradshaw Shift rearranges the entire work in light of a few geographical references. If such a far fetched theory could exist, then it is important to note that it does not take into account that in the General Prologue (which almost doesn’t vary at all throughout the manuscripts) it is stated that there would be a return trip – geographically this should be taken into consideration, ultimately serving to reverse the tales altogether. As Donaldson states, the Bradshaw Shift is “a desperate remedy, a huge conjectural emendation involving the transfer of some 3450 lines over an area of 7326 lines in order to correct the reading of a single word.” In other words, if the tales did follow a geographical pattern as they are, it would be the equivalent of driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with a stop in San Jose only to back track to Santa Barbara before resuming the northern route.  Not to mention that, again, the Tales are not complete, meaning that further changes could have been made, and more importantly, if topography was so important to Chaucer, then why are there so few references to it? Sittingbourne and Rochester constitute almost half the geographical mentions made.

This leaves two ways of analyzing the manuscripts, contextually, and physically.

To more or less paraphrase Helen Cooper, since theories based on identifiable connecting ideas are subject to interpretation, editors generally take a more technical, or textual, approach that is based on physical evidence within the manuscripts, helping to deduce the hands which actually wrote the Tales, and bringing the work closer to the nature of how Chaucer left it.

Arguably (although no one argues against this), one of the most important texts in Chaucer scholarship is the 1940 Manly-Rickert eight volume set that analyzed all extant manuscripts at the time, line for line, noting all discrepancies, and forming decisions which would sway scholarship for decades into the present. Unlike the majority of scholars, they did not believe Chaucer had a set idea before death, and that the manuscripts were all inferences of his work. I personally believe much the same, and have quite a hunch that authorship was greatly represented by scribal authority, especially when scribes of myriad notable texts (noted for their penmanship and ink preferences) had their hand in completing manuscripts.

The Manly-Rickert text asserts that upon Chaucer’s death scribes acquired the Tales from his desk, and from circulation among acquaintances, referring to these pieces as “corrupt” due to previous handling. However, what this suggests is that scribes received the Tales piecemeal, and therefore not in any intelligible order. The main problem with this is that a large number of manuscripts do preserve a certain order. Granted several of the same scribes worked on several of the same manuscripts, meaning that they would have preserved the order among themselves, this does not account for the overall consensus on certain groupings. Over 50 manuscripts maintain the marriage group, as it is modernly called. And even more convene on the primary tales. It would have been impossible for only a handful of scribes to have completed these works in a life-time, not to mention the disparity of libraries in which they were found makes it unlikely that communication happened, implying that there was in fact some sort of predetermined order that all were following, with only slight divergence, making the problem somewhat easier to solve – the tales are typically found in groupings, so it is not the original tales that must be placed in order, and not even the fragments, but rather the groupings. This same argument will again become important shortly.

All of the manuscripts that contain a full set of fragments (ten), are dated after 1400, meaning nothing was written during Chaucer’s life, and thus he had no hand in scribal orchestration. More recent studies, notably those of Vance Ramsey, speculate that the Hengwrt manuscript was in fact produced before Chaucer’s death, circa 1395. The significance is within the implication that if Hengwrt was produced directly under Chaucer’s guidance, or at least with his general approval, then the tale orderings in Hengwrt hold more authority than previously conceived. Manly and Rickert were of this view before Ramsey made the argument, however, they did not acknowledge any claims of Hengwrt being produced prior to 1400, but rather that it “represents the earliest attempt after Chaucer’s death to arrange in a single manuscript the tales and links left unarranged by him.” Yet, according to the ordering that Manly and Rickert devised, Hengwrt is lacking passages, and reverses several folios later found in other manuscripts. Yes, Hengwrt is indeed lacking passages, especially in light of the Lansdowne and Ellesmere manuscripts. Yet regardless of whether Hengwrt was written before or shortly after Chaucer’s death, to refer to it as one of the closest manuscripts to Chaucer’s desk implies that anything outside Hengwrt was perhaps a scribal embellishment to fill in numerous gaps of plot. Considering who is thought to have been the principle scribe on the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts, it does not seem impossible, but considering that even the Ellesmere remained incomplete it begs the question as to how much involvement there really was. Depending on which passages are thought to have been fabricated for plot continuation, and the amount of added material, readings could most certainly be altered.

Cooper has thoroughly discussed the absurdity of trying to reassemble what may at one point have been on Chaucer’s desk in an attempt to reconstruct the original intentions for the manuscripts. Aside from that information being unavailable, it generally leads to a circular argument where people will find on the hypothetical desk whatever it is they wish to find there, then use their hypothetical answers to argue their interpretations of the text, and use the text as proof for their assumptions.
In most simplistic terms, the textual problem faced is akin to the “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” conundrum.

Since tale ordering is apparently important enough for so many scholars to have been discussing it for nearly the past century, it only follows that most would want to know how the selection process was made for the Tales. The individual tales were obviously not written in the order in which we have them, regardless of manuscript, otherwise we would have one long line of tales, with nothing to debate. This is not the case, meaning the they were written individually, separately, meant to be later assembled like puzzle pieces.

The puzzle, however, lacks an unbelievable amount of pieces, not just in unfinished tales, but further in the discrepancy between what is stated as the goal of the journey in the General Prologue, versus what is actually had. Was there supposed to be even more in the middle?

The Tales were largely influenced by the Decameron, contextually, like the Clerk’s Tale that is pretty much a verbatim retelling of Petrarch’s translation of one of the stories from Book X, and more importantly, stylistically. However, Chaucer complicated the concept. Whereas the narrative of the Decameron, and pretext of the black plague is present only to loosely tie the stories together, in the Canterbury Tales the interlinking monologues, discussions, and character sketches are formed to be just as, if not more important than some of the tales. Thus a reading of the Canterbury Tales and subsequent discourse on tale ordering must take into consideration the implications of narrative when moving the tales around (i.e. the Clerk’s Tale can never precede the Wife as the tale responds to the Wife’s Prologue, or the Reve must follow the Miller since the Reve’s Tale responds to the Miller’s). However, it is not always certain how closely they must follow one another. Can several tales intervene between? According to most manuscripts, the answer to this is yes. Are there other prologues that also make mention of these tales which will indicate an even more complicated ordering? Sometimes. And most importantly, who made the final decision?

As mentioned before, there is a thread of scholarship that believes the Hengwrt manuscript to be the most authentic, as in closest to Chaucer’s intentions since it was produced closest to his death. Some more extreme scholars believe that the manuscript was found in his desk at time of death, which is not as well accepted, mainly because most proof they provide is largely unacceptable.

It is, nevertheless, widely accepted (with valid proof provided), that the same scribe who created Hengwrt was also responsible for the Ellesmere, which places the Hengwrt manuscript as a prototype for the Ellesmere, making the latter into a “new and improved” version. Thus it can be inferred that what is in Hengwrt was whatever was found or already acquired from Chaucer at his death, while the Ellesmere may either provide new materials that came to light after the fact, or scribal interpretation of ordering and tale finalization for continuity – either theories are feasible, and both just as likely. M. C. Seymour explores and refutes both of these, focusing on the work of N. F. Blake, discussing three underlying premises of Blake’s original argument that were never overtly stated, but which Seymour believes were the crux of Blake’s argument.

First Seymour explains the implications of Blake’s argument that the poem was not simply unfinished and abandoned, but that Chaucer was still working on it until his death. The main point relies on the Retraction attached to the Parson’s Tale. Seymour argues that since the Retraction exists, Chaucer had a plan for how the Tales would proceed to the end. However, having written the Retraction does not necessarily preclude him from having (at least temporarily) abandoned the Tales. Then Seymour addresses the ongoing debate about the unfinished Squire’s Tale, which in his opinion is indefensible; it is not unfinished, but was meant to be interrupted by the next story teller (in most manuscripts, by the Franklin). Lastly, Seymour analyzes why certain tales (Cook’s Tale, Merchant’s Tale, Monk’s Tale, etc.) were thought to be unfinished, having to do with the spacing on the manuscripts, missing leaves, and later additions in different inks. The manuscripts which are thought to have been created the earliest have spacing that later manuscripts do not have, meaning that during the scribal process of the “prototype” manuscripts the scribes may have been waiting to either find or receive the missing pieces. Once enough time passed to where it was no longer feasible that they would turn up, the subsequent manuscripts omitted the spacing altogether. Or, as in a few cases, there were parts written in to fill the spaces that were obviously added later either in different inks, or by a completely different hand. Some are strictly Chaucerian, and have for the most part been authenticated, while others, like Gamelyn are often questioned and not included in most compilations, although some manuscripts have it following the unfinished Cook’s Tale.

All three of Blake’s premises, as Seymour outlines them, rely on the concept of the contents within Chaucer desk. Again, trying to ascertain what was there leads nowhere, so even though the Hengwrt may have been the earliest manuscript of the Canterbury Tales created, it is not necessarily the most authoritarian.

Returning to the contextual argument, and revisiting the idea that there were in fact two trips planed (to and from Canterbury), it is difficult to decipher which tales were meant for which trip. In fact, it is impossible to make any concrete decisions on this. Thus it is best to focus on the tales existing within a single trip. This is not to say that that is how Chaucer intended it, however trying to figure out his intentions would be as lucrative as unearthing what may have been on his desk.

It has been argued that the way the tales are now is due to scribal attempts at organizing the few tales that were found. Yet the very fact that all manuscripts arrange the tales in a single journey out suggests that their orderings are related. There are different fragments which are consistent throughout the manuscripts, once again indicating that if all the scribes had acquired the tales individually and no evidence existed for an ordering, then the consistencies would not exist. In other words, as logical as some fragments may appear, for all the manuscripts to reach the same conclusion independently, without previous instruction, in unlikely.

To get a better sense of the process of tale ordering, the logistics of it can be traced between the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts (and in future revisions of this I will expand on several other manuscripts, including Lansdowne, Harley, and Corpus Christi). The Hengwrt allows for a mixture of scribal and authorial intents to be measured – it appears that in the Hengwrt manuscript the scribe copied the pieces he had without making connections between the tales. They were separate pieces simply written to be later assembled. These same pieces were recopied in the Ellesmere manuscript, somewhat rearranged, and polished. Something happened in between the creation of these manuscripts that prompted the changes, and finding that information would elucidate the extant of scribal intervention within manuscript creation.

I was currently in the middle of outlining some clearer distinctions between the manuscripts with a breakdown of scholarship in existence along with my own commentary, however, I will have to stop here for tonight. I would have had a bit more, except my Hengwrt/Ellesmere digital facsimiles were not cooperating with me last night. The CD Rom was being finicky, and the Aberystwyth Library site was not linking properly. So basically I spent most of last night staring blankly at my laptop. I will consider this Part I, and will have Part II up at some point this week.

Object Fetish

I am writing my statement of purpose for a second school, realizing that it must be altered each time more than I had originally thought. What is my purpose? Depends where I am applying. They want to know who I want to work with at their institution and what I want to work on. So I look through the faculty pages, find what everyone specializes in, and research the ones closest to my own interests. At the school I am writing my current statement for there is only one professor even moderately close to what I am considering.

My interests in medieval manuscripts may have been relevant sixty years ago. Such studies were huge in the 40’s and 50’s, with entire five, eight and ten volume sets being written and poured over in all corners of academia. The professor who had originally gotten me into this had himself written his dissertation on the topic in the late 50’s at the height of manuscript frenzy. I was at an institution that was still at the residual end of these studies. It still is, but less so. When applying to them again I didn’t have to alter much. My interests are the same now as they were then, simply with more finesse and better honed, and this school still has the faculty and resources to properly help me develop it further.
The other schools however require a little more finagling on my part. So at School B, after having read some of this professor’s works and skimming others I realize that the closest I will get to a medieval manuscript while working with him is by looking at the object itself.
My fascination with manuscripts is odd in that it relies on a very narrow take of manuscript studies. I am more concerned with the building aspect, the logistics of manuscript creation, than anything else. So why not extrapolate it further? This professor works with literature as a commodity fetish. The physical book, as a personal possession for private use becomes an object of interest in and of itself, independent of the actual text it contains. Isn’t that what my whole obsession with manuscripts is? A niche fetish concerned with the object itself? Sort of.
I had always thought it was a rather bizarre fascination, especially since so few others share it, and looking at it this way made the most sense. I had never thought of manuscripts or books as commodities, but if you consider their origin and the purposes for which they were written, and later pressed, and sold and disseminated, it goes far beyond the sharing of ideas via text. The work’s relevance becomes interwoven and oscillates between the actual text contained and the fetishism of the physical object with enjoyment derived from its personal possession and use.

About eight months ago I wrote this post. I didn’t know it then, but I essentially outlined this very theory in my own relationship with literature.

Maybe I am more tactile than others, but when I love a book, I don’t just love what it says, but the way it feels, and smells, how it becomes worn, my marginalia sometimes faded and reapplied, the way I highlight sections, and the cover. For me reading is a physical experience. Even after I got my Kindle I rarely if ever use it, and when I do it has more to do with not wanting to carry a book around, but I probably still have a copy of it at home. So if I have this kind of experience with mass produced paperbacks, how can it not be argued that a similar fetishism didn’t exist with medieval manuscripts that were far more elaborate and meticulously crafted? The process of creating the manuscripts as taken on by different scribes (most manuscripts were created by a series of scribes, each with their own specialty, such as letter writing, head letter writing, illuminating, coloring, etc.) was a process in which each one took pride, and the ownership of such works harbored a similar pride. However, despite the length it took to create these pieces, manuscripts then were not treated as they are now. For us they are rare and must be kept in certain conditions, but then they were simply a part of the household, written in, played with, and (some might argue) defaced in a similar fashion as what I do to my own books when scrawling notes across pages or otherwise altering them. I don’t do these things because I don’t believe my books have value, but simply because that is how I enjoy them most. Just like others six and seven hundred years ago interacted with their manuscripts, writing across gold-leaf illuminations, and scribbling on the edges of nearly perfectly penned text. In fact you can trace ownership of some manuscripts simply by tracing who had written in them over the years (e.g. Lansdowne MS of the Canterbury Tales).
And since I apparently really like working my way into a corner, I will narrow the argument down even further to solely look at the ways in which this fetishism moved from manuscript to novel. Not that other texts weren’t being similarly commodified, but I think the relationship between owner and manuscript is most closely paralleled between owner and novel (taking into account that most manuscripts were not in fact stories, or thought to be fictitious in the least). This latter part relies on the amount of enjoyment derived from the work in consuming it, and also possessing it. The novel is a form of entertainment, and sometimes, depending on the point in time you are looking into, it was a secret pleasure to be delighted in behind closed doors. The mere possession of a book, much less a novel, contains a rich history, and as private libraries became public, acquired by historians and museums, the commodification of books becomes of central importance.So I guess I am not really altering my interests as much as repositioning them to be looked at from a different angle. Interesting.