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What was a book in early modern England? By combining book history, bibliography and literary criticism, Material Texts in Early Modern England explores how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books were stranger, richer things than scholars have imagined. Adam Smyth examines important aspects of bibliographical culture which have been under-examined by critics: the cutting up of books as a form of careful reading; book destruction and its relation to canon formation; the prevalence of printed errors and the literary richness of mistakes; and the recycling of older texts in the bodies of new books, as printed waste. How did authors, including Herbert, Jonson, Milton, Nashe and Cavendish, respond to this sense of the book as patched, transient, flawed, and palimpsestic? Material Texts in Early Modern England recovers these traits and practices, and so crucially revises our sense of what a book was, and what a book might be.


'Smyth - one of our best and most inventive readers of textual materiality - has answers that affirm and often dazzle … Material Texts in Early Modern England is lively and engaging throughout, but Smyth’s insights can be striking when he takes risks or otherwise breaks with disciplinary decorum. The revelatory chapter on waste flirts with radical anti-intentionalism in reading detached leaves and stubs from Astrophel and Stella alongside an unrelated ‘host’ book, yet it also locates patterns of textual recycling in the record of extant binder’s waste that will fascinate empirically minded scholars. Regularly in Smyth’s handling, some aspect of the textual habitus that seems mundane or incidental to literary study is quickened with meaning.'

Jeffrey Todd Knight Source: Review of English Studies

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Bodleian Library

  • Ashmole 781

  • Library Records e.9

  • Wood 106

British Library

  • Add. MS 4900

  • Add. MS 37719

  • C.23.e.4

  • C.40.m.9

  • C.40.m.10

  • C.40.m.11

  • Harley 5919, 5934, 5937, 5960

Folger Shakespeare Library

  • Folger V.a. 391

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  • Folger V.a. 515

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1 Place of publication is London unless otherwise stated.