Abstract An otiose stroke in scribal practice is a mark whose linguistic signification is obscure—yet such strokes abound as calligraphic additions to certain letters in English manuscripts of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. This article seeks an explanation for the deployment of certain apparently otiose strokes, whose careful and persistent execution suggests a deliberate purpose in deployment. The vernacular production of the Carthusian scribe William Darker (working c.1481–1512) is chosen as an exemplum, and four common strokes in his work whose function is deemed ambiguous are examined in detail. Statistical and contextual analysis of the deployment of these strokes reveals semantic behaviours and patterns of use that suggest the marks had significant meaning for the scribe: though they do not necessarily function as abbreviations, they appear to bear linguistic meaning, and act with some consistency as signals of vowel length, pronunciation, and morphology. While these ‘otiose’ strokes remain resistant to full explication, the patterns here uncovered suggest a scribal intention to encode linguistic information via the conscious placement of calligraphic marks.
Abstract Drawing upon recent research into historical phonology, this article re-examines the prosodic structure of Alexander Pope’s verse. The underlying purpose is to demonstrate that the widespread tendency to hear Pope’s poetry with a modern ear can lead to literary-critical interpretations that are alarmingly brittle. By contrast, a willingness to undertake some kind of pronunciation-related auditory archaeology can reveal phonological patterns that would otherwise remain hidden—and an awareness of these patterns can transform our appreciation of his intricate couplet art. A task of this kind necessarily involves a careful reading of prominent contemporaneous dictionaries, grammar textbooks, and orthoepic works, as well as recent revisionist studies of eighteenth-century English phonology. As an initial case study, the central discussion in this article will focus predominantly on two words: and . Jonathan Swift accused Pope of deploying too many ‘unjustifiable rhymes’ for these words in his Iliad, and seeking to understand this critique leads to an exploration of how Pope structured his poetry using subtle phonological correspondences which frequently occur at locations other than the tenth syllable in his couplets.
Abstract Tradecraft lurks throughout the allegories of cloth-making in William Langland’s Piers Plowman, more fully and sympathetically expressed than scholars have realized. But in spite of the depth of lore there, the poem continually examines the problem of supervising such craft production and producers. Assessing this double perspective adds a distinctive chapter to understandings of how Piers Plowman invokes and requires wide economic and social contexts, specifically those focused on cloth production, a topic more amenable to ‘thing theory’ than the ‘costume rhetoric’ often applied to the presentations of array in Chaucer and other poets. All writers in the period were confronted with major changes in how clothing was made, sold, and worn, but Piers Plowman’s concerns differ significantly from contemporary writings both in how intricately the poem invokes the cloth industry yet how frequently it indicates the need for its punctilious governance (and that of craft and labour in general). Langland’s presentations of array offer not only an original and highly informed contribution to a central instance of late-medieval social and allegorical signification but also a contradictory response to its changing social, industrial, and institutional dimensions. Langland uses array and its making and remaking to affirm craft, process, and aesthetics in general while imagining new forms of governance, religious and political, that might contain its social and ethical disruptions.
Abstract Riddle 53 is one of the only remaining Old English riddles that still lacks a satisfactory solution. Previous solutions have included ‘battering-ram’ and GEALGA (‘gallows’ or ‘cross’), but neither of these answers solves the whole text. This article offers the first solution to solve the riddle completely without ignoring contradictory evidence or difficult lines; my solution is BOC OND FEÐER (‘book and quill-pen’). In addition to a new solution, this article offers an alternative approach for decoding medieval enigmas, one that foregrounds the connections between texts that surface reading and surface deceptions can offer. In other words, I argue for the clustering of riddles based on similarities in what I call the ‘poetics of misdirection’—their slippery surface themes and the places to which they are obviously trying to lead the reader—as an organizing principle for reading across the corpus. This method traces specific histories of poetic deception and appropriately situates Riddle 53 in a sub-genre of classroom literatures (in both Latin and Old English) that use violence and martial language as a form of misdirection when describing objects found in the early English scriptorium. Further, by focusing on the physical (rather than intellectual) labour required in the material process of bookmaking, this article emphasizes an aspect of life with books in the early Middle Ages that modern readers have often glossed over.
Abstract Pocketbook diaries were one of the most pervasive platforms for autobiography in Britain throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The relative standardization of the genre’s bibliographic and textual elements encouraged users to record their lives in discrete day-by-day blocks and their finances in neat columns. As culturally ubiquitous interfaces, pocketbooks had the potential to shape the records that users wrote in them as well as, this article argues, users themselves. I draw on the case study of Priscilla Wordsworth’s pocketbooks from the early 1800s, contextualizing them alongside other largely unknown female diarists from the period. I show that, in addition to the content of diary entries, the way Wordsworth and others interact with the material and cultural expectations of their pocketbooks reveals much about pocketbooks’ affordances and their potential to influence their users. This article suggests that the interfaces that people used might affect not only their interactions with a particular interface—such as a pocketbook—but also their sense of self. Employing theories of interface design often applied to digital media, this article offers connections between old and new media and within scholarship on media studies, book history, and material culture.
Abstract Joseph Conrad’s ‘Karain: A Memory’ (1897) is not often cited as a landmark of literary modernism. Conrad’s Malay story appeared during the year in which The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ announced his arrival as an author with modernist ambitions. It also belongs to the same Blackwood’s period of his early career that produced arguably his most celebrated work, ‘Heart of Darkness’. Whereas these stories consensually exemplify Conrad’s modernism, ‘Karain’ tends to be construed as an early working-through of the contemporary popular influences that shaped his literary output. Yet, in a significant sense, it also dramatizes the colonial encounter that defined some of the conceptual contours of modernism. This essay explores the story’s composition, early transmission and reception, its self-conscious engagement with its popular cultural lineage, and Conrad’s parallel emergence as a writer of ‘challenging’ fiction. Its aim is not merely to recuperate ‘Karain’ as a work of early modernism, nor simply to re-evaluate Conrad’s story as a rehearsal, in terms of its interrogative relationship with imperialism, for some of his more overtly anti-colonialist fiction. Rather, its wider focus is on how Conrad’s story reflects upon the nature of empire and modernism as mutually sustaining enterprises, and, counter to the view of other modernist authors such as T. S. Eliot, how colonial fiction and modernist writing are not antithetical but rather interrelated literary practices.
Abstract Lucy Hutchinson’s religious commitments inform her writing across its variety of genres. Critics and historians have tended to identify her as a Baptist, following the rejection of infant baptism that she records in her biography of her husband, John Hutchinson. But the recent publication of her theological writings allows for a more complicated account of her changing religious views. In the Life, Lucy Hutchinson showed how her husband’s theological commitments radicalized after the Restoration. His turn away from Protestant scholasticism towards a more independent engagement with the Bible facilitated his investigation of millennial theory. After his death, Lucy Hutchinson continued this autonomous theological exploration, and moved further from the orthodox mainstream. After the mid-1660s, she prepared a sequence of theological writings that evidence her increasingly eclectic religious style. These documents suggest that she did not resolve some of her most dramatic movements away from Reformed orthodoxy. In these writings, Hutchinson negotiated a critical distance from her husband’s legacy, the Reformed confessional tradition, and the options available in any of the available dissenting congregations.