Cover image for Engaging words : the culture of reading in the later Middle Ages
Engaging words : the culture of reading in the later Middle Ages
Amtower, Laurel.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Palgrave, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 243 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Z1003.5.E9 A48 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Acts of reading appear everywhere in the late Middle Ages, from the margins of Books of Hours to self-portraits of authors in their studies. What relevance did this image have for the late medieval imagination? Engaging Words is an interdisciplinary study on the conception of reading in late medieval society. Beginning with an examination of the social conditions that produced a viable reading public, the book proceeds to examine popular tastes, the interrelationship between manuscript form and content, and finally the theory and poetry of late medieval authors. By drawing on images from late medieval culture as well as from historical documents and literary texts, Engaging Words shows how reading became a cultural metaphor in the late Middle Ages that transformed the way the Western world thought about identity and social roles.

Author Notes

Laurel Amtower is Associate Professor of English at San Diego State University

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Amtower (San Diego State Univ.) surveys images of readers and the theme of reading in late-medieval Books of Hours and a few major writers, arguing that this is a new metaphor for new ways of analyzing the self and the world. The "newness" is claimed without much historical background but in fine surveys of book owners, depictions of readers in Books of Hours, and select explications of Dante, Petrarch, and Chaucer. Building on claims by many scholars (Jesse Gellrich, Michael Clanchy, Paul Saenger, Ralph Hanna), the study is new less in focus than in its deft interpretations and informed combination of book history, art history, and literary history. Such scope entails sacrifices, some misleading. In literature, the claim for a "new" outlook rests on a few major vernacular works, slighting other vernacular works and, more seriously, all Latin founders of the metaphor and theme, whose supposed dullness and restrictiveness seem plausible only by ignoring writers like Alan of Lille and Hugh of St. Victor. Yet Amtower succeeds in showing a sophisticated, varied, and often-ironic sense of reading as a metaphor for all manner of comprehension in late-medieval art and literature. All collections. A. Galloway Cornell University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Series Editor's Forewordp. xi
Introduction: Engaging Textsp. 1
Chapter 1 The Reading Publicp. 17
Chapter 2 The Image of the Book: Mediating the Aesthetics of Reader Responsep. 45
Chapter 3 Authorized Readers, or, Reading Authorityp. 79
Chapter 4 The Ethics of Readingp. 121
Chapter 5 Textual Subjectsp. 145
Conclusion: Identity and the Bookp. 183
Notesp. 189
Bibliographyp. 219
Indexp. 239