Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde focuses its narrative tension through paper: the material itself is essential to the plot of the poem. Troilus both confesses his admiration for Criseyde and later expresses his anxiety about her fidelity through his correspondence. Pandarus’s entire identity is encapsulated by his role as the mediator of these paper communications. Criseyde’s eventual betrayal of Troilus is heralded by her neglect of paper in answering Troilus’s missives. Most striking about paper in this poem, however, is the fact that it is an anachronistic technology at the center of a ‘Troy’ where Martha Rust intriguingly notes that clay tablets would have been in use. Where Orietta Da Rold highlights Chaucer’s deliberate attention to paper itself as a material that underscores both plot and character development while making visible—and tangible—that plot’s most visceral themes, paper is clearly too pivotal for its anachronistic presence to be incidental. This invites the following question: in centering this anachronistic technology, does Troilus and Criseydeinvite further anachronistic engagement?Continue reading
MS Kk.1.7 contains The Pilgrimage of the Soul – the Middle English adaptation of Guillaume de Deguilleville’s fourteenth-century poem Le Pèlerinage de l’Âme. All of the extant manuscript copies of the Soul reserve space for illustration, indicating that miniatures played an integral role in the manuscript tradition of the Soul. Close comparison of the scenes chosen for illustration reveals an archetypal programme of illustration. Most copies show preparation or completion of twenty-six scenes, and these scenes show a high degree of consistency in subject and, often, iconography.[i] In Kk.1.7, a total of seventeen scenes are illustrated, and possibly one or two others are missing due to loss. The illustrator made critical decisions not only about which moments of the narrative would receive greater emphasis, but also about the iconography of these scenes, thereby deciding how they were presented and constructing reader responses.
MS Ee.4.32 is datable to s. s.xv2 and contains two texts: The Three Kings of Cologne and the English Prose Brut Chronicle. Renown Brut scholar Lister Matheson asserts that: ‘The Middle English prose Brut survives in more manuscripts than any other Middle English work except the two Wycliffite translations of the Bible’. Matheson’s compiled catalogue of the Brut lists nineteen extant versions of the Latin Brut, forty-nine versions of the Anglo-Norman Brut, and over one-hundred-seventy versions of the Middle English Brut. For a complete list and location of these manuscripts, please see Matheson’s monograph The Prose Brut: The Development of a Middle English Chronicle.Continue reading
Turning to the central folios (70v-71r) of Cambridge, University Library, Ff.6.33, we find a reddish-brown discolouration, rectangular in size, which seems to have bled through the material, faded but still visible on one bifolium (see Fig 1). The mark resists immediate classification as a spillage or other such accidental damage and thus raises the question of how we might interpret such markings. Has the manuscript been used to store an item flat? Is it a mark left by a historical binding? Continue reading
When asked about the role of note-taking in his compositional practice in 1839 edition of The Knickerbocker Magazine, a young Charles Dickens asserted:
I never commit thoughts to paper until I am obliged to write, being better able to keep them in regular order on different shelves of my brain, ready ticketed and labelled to be brought out when I want them.
In this case, the mythology doesn’t seem to stack up to the material. Examining the handwritten culture at the heart of Charles Dickens’s compositional practice pulls the researcher in many directions. In what material evidence we have remaining, we do not find ‘regular order’, the ‘ready ticketed and labelled’ shelving system of the brain, artfully and systematically laid bare on paper. Oftentimes, rather than fullness, one finds fragments, rather than surety, one finds scribbles. Continue reading
Cambridge, University Library, MS Ff. 5. 35 contains The Travels of Sir John Mandeville and Piers Plowman. Both works were copied by a single scribe, and are relatively uniform in terms of layout, decoration, abbreviation, and use of catchwords. These two texts are also found in close proximity in several other manuscripts (Cambridge University Library Dd. 1. 17 and San Marino, Calif., Huntington Library MS HM 114), suggesting that despite differences in genre, form and style, the combination was a somewhat popular and apparently logical one for medieval audiences.
This manuscript features two separate sets of quire markings: a series of quire numbers, likely made by a later binder, loosely resembling Roman numerals; and a series of leaf signatures, apparently scribal, visible on the bottom outer corner of the recto of the first folios of many quires, consisting of a letter marking the quire number and a Roman numeral indicating the number of the folio within that quire. Continue reading
Cambridge University Library, MS Ee. 4. 30 is a copy of Walter Hilton’s contemplative treatise The Scale of Perfection. Dating from the late fifteenth century, the manuscript is a good quality production by a single scribe, with some careful decorations. It was produced in the London Charterhouse, a major centre of book production and circulation.
Indeed, the presence of an ex libris inscription in the manuscript indicates its provenance, one which follows the standard Latin phrasing from this house: ‘Liber domus salutacionis Matris Dei ordinis cartusiensis prope London’ (‘a book of the house of the Salutation of the Mother of God, of the Carthusian Order, near London’). This formulation appears in several other volumes from the Charterhouse, including at the very end of Cambridge University Library, MS Ff. 1. 19 (fol. 134v), where it is heavily abbreviated. However, in MS Ee. 4. 30 the formulation appears in an unusual and, as far as I have been able to determine, unique format. The inscription appears one letter at a time in the central lower margins of each recto in Part One of the Scale text (fols. 4r – 62r), meaning that the reader has to decipher the text gradually. Continue reading
Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum holds both the original manuscript and first edition proofs for Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure (Object Numbers MS 1-1911 and PB 9-2008). The novel was published in 1895 and follows the tragic tale of Jude Fawley, whose impassioned ambition to become a scholar is repeatedly thwarted by a troublesome blend of social impediments and regrettable personal decision-making. The novel transpired to be Hardy’s swansong in literary fiction, and is an astonishingly rich vision of the troubled philosophical and political conditions in the fin de siècle.
Cambridge University Library, MS Hh. 1. 13 (Hh.1.13) is one of over 50 extant copies of the Speculum Christiani, a popular pastoral compilation dating most likely from the first few decades of the fifteenth century. The Speculum almost always consists of eight sections or tabulae, each of which expounds on certain aspects of the Christian faith, in keeping with Pecham’s basic syllabus of religious instruction. The Speculum, however, is often combined with other religious texts of diverse provenance.
Fols 1r-71v of Hh.1.13 contain a unique version of the Speculum (G. Holmstedt (ed.), Speculum Christiani, EETS: OS, 182 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933, p. cxlii).
Conservation Report for Pembroke College
Manuscript fragments, stored in the University Library
A wide assortment of parchment manuscript fragments, some with illuminations, which have been used as spine linings (a few comb spine linings) or guards. Also includes a few parchment manuscript gatherings, board papers and endleaves.