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Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Age


How did tenth-century readers describe the experience of reading—or merely holding—books? The related early medieval experience of education has received much more attention, with an important new study by Irina Dumitrescu that illuminates the emotionally fraught and sometimes troubling relationships that subsisted between teachers and students. In this essay, I look to the Red Book of Darley (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 422) as a window into the broader book culture that subsumed them. Rather than tracing the bonds shared by schoolmasters and pupils or patrons and poets, then, I trace the similarly intimate, if occasionally more private, affective entanglements of early medieval English readers and their manuscripts, as embodied by the images and poems in CCCC MS 422. As I will argue, CCCC MS 422 accordingly offers a case study for early medieval thinking about books themselves and the ways in which they could shape the lives of the people who lived alongside them—as well as a testament to the global investments of early medieval English bibliophiles, who imaginatively assembled larcræft (‘knowledge’) from far-flung libraries in Libya, Greece, and India, as in the Old English poems now known as Solomon and Saturn I and II, which form a part of CCCC 422’s decidedly global entanglements. Indeed, I argue that MS 422 offers a fascinating lens into early medieval thinking about textuality, reading, attention, and book culture broadly conceived.

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