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Reading in the Wilderness: Private Devotion and Public Performance in Late Medieval England
     

Reading in the Wilderness: Private Devotion and Public Performance in Late Medieval England

by Jessica Brantley
 

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Just as twenty-first-century technologies like blogs and wikis have transformed the once private act of reading into a public enterprise, devotional reading experiences in the Middle Ages were dependent upon an oscillation between the solitary and the communal. In Reading in the Wilderness, Jessica Brantley uses tools from both literary criticism and art

Overview

Just as twenty-first-century technologies like blogs and wikis have transformed the once private act of reading into a public enterprise, devotional reading experiences in the Middle Ages were dependent upon an oscillation between the solitary and the communal. In Reading in the Wilderness, Jessica Brantley uses tools from both literary criticism and art history to illuminate Additional MS 37049, an illustrated Carthusian miscellany housed in the British Library. This revealing artifact, Brantley argues, closes the gap between group spectatorship and private study in late medieval England.

Drawing on the work of W. J. T. Mitchell, Michael Camille, and others working at the image-text crossroads, Reading in the Wilderness addresses the manuscript’s texts and illustrations to examine connections between reading and performance within the solitary monk’s cell and also outside. Brantley reimagines the medieval codex as a site where the meanings of images and words are performed, both publicly and privately, in the act of reading.

Editorial Reviews

Comitatus
"[The author] puts forth a convincing case for the presence of theater in monastic reading, thus challenging the boundaries between public performance and private reading . . . and between verbal literature and visual image-texts, as visible forms of communication within the late medieval Carthusian charterhouse."-Kevin Teo, Comitatus

— Kevin Teo

Catholic Library World
"A work of high scholarship that brings to bear a novel form of analysis to a medieval monastic illuminated text."-Herman A. Peterson, Catholic Library World

— Herman A. Peterson

Renaissance Quarterly
"In the context of the study of this odd and oddly compelling manuscript Brantley's reading is interesting and provocative."-Martha W. Driver, Renaissance Quarterly

— Martha W. Driver

Clio
"Brantley''s loving and learned attention, lavished on this ''one small and roughly made book,'' exemplifies the kind of careful, empathetic reading of a single medieval artifact that can open up an entire horizon of cultural understanding. I recommend it highly."

— Ann W. Astell

Medieval Institute Publications
"Ranging widely from genre to metaphor and motif, from the layout of stanzas and rhyme braces to the structure of allegorical trees, [the author''s] expertise as a literary critic is evident at every point. She is equally astute with images."-Ann Eljenholm Nichols, Medieval Institute Publications

— Ann Eljenholm Nichols

Medieval Review
"This is an impressive book that should be required reading for those working on late-medieval religious culture, Middle English devotional writing, early English drama and performance studies, and the relationship between images and texts. . . . Finally, Reading in the Wilderness is a beautiful book. With eight full color plates and over a hundred black and white images of the manuscript and analogues, it offers the reader visual as well as textual pleasure."-Shannon Gayk, Medieval Review

— Shannon Gayk

Jeffrey F. Hamburger
“Jessica Brantley’s Reading in the Wilderness is an impressive, thorough, and thoughtful analysis of one of the most important of all fifteenth-century English manuscripts.  In addition to providing a much-needed discussion of a densely illustrated compendium, the book provides a good general discussion of Carthusian patronage of the arts and attitudes towards the visual arts, which has long represented a lacuna in the literature.”
Richard K. Emmerson
“At long last—an in-depth study of the Carthusian Miscellany! Instead of mining the surface of this fascinating manuscript for the occasional visual nugget to illustrate late medieval devotional practices, Jessica Brantley digs deep to illuminate the manuscript itself, significantly extending previous work by art historians, Middle English editors, and students of fifteenth-century religion by focusing on its performative nature and highlighting its theatricality.”

Paul Strohm
“Jessica Brantley persuasively describes a prevalent medieval practice of performative private reading. Moving beyond previous theories of reception, she analyzes manuscript illustrations as action-seeking cues to the devout or meditative reader. Finding apparently solitary reading experience 'quickened' at every point by its relation to public and communal experience, she stages a vigorous challenge to simplified notions of individuality and community in the later middle ages.”

Comitatus - Kevin Teo
"[The author] puts forth a convincing case for the presence of theater in monastic reading, thus challenging the boundaries between public performance and private reading . . . and between verbal literature and visual image-texts, as visible forms of communication within the late medieval Carthusian charterhouse."
Catholic Library World - Herman A. Peterson
"A work of high scholarship that brings to bear a novel form of analysis to a medieval monastic illuminated text."
Renaissance Quarterly - Martha W. Driver
“In the context of the study of this odd and oddly compelling manuscript Brantley’s reading is interesting and provocative.”

Clio - Ann W. Astell
"Brantley's loving and learned attention, lavished on this 'one small and roughly made book,' exemplifies the kind of careful, empathetic reading of a single medieval artifact that can open up an entire horizon of cultural understanding. I recommend it highly."
Medieval Institute Publications - Ann Eljenholm Nichols
"Ranging widely from genre to metaphor and motif, from the layout of stanzas and rhyme braces to the structure of allegorical trees, [the author's] expertise as a literary critic is evident at every point. She is equally astute with images."
Medieval Review - Shannon Gayk
"This is an impressive book that should be required reading for those working on late-medieval religious culture, Middle English devotional writing, early English drama and performance studies, and the relationship between images and texts. . . . Finally, Reading in the Wilderness is a beautiful book. With eight full color plates and over a hundred black and white images of the manuscript and analogues, it offers the reader visual as well as textual pleasure."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226071329
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
10/01/2007
Pages:
344
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Jessica Brantley is associate professor of English at Yale University.
 
 
 

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