Douglas A. Brooks, ed. Printing and Parenting in Early
Modern England. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. xviii+436pp. ISBN 0 7546 0425
Queen Mary, University of London
Searle, Alison. "Review of Douglas
A. Brooks, ed. Printing and Parenting in Early Modern England."
Early Modern Literary Studies 12.2 (September, 2006) 8.1-5<URL:http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-2/revbrook.htm>.
- This collection of essays explores the nexus of discourses converging around
parenting and the printing press in early modern England. Amongst various
critical paradigms it deploys gender studies and the history of the book,
examining the aspects of literary production, print technology and processes
of conception and birth, which are thrown into sharp relief by the juxtaposition
of printing and parenting. The significant conceptual overlap between these
two discursive fields is used to organise the collection as a whole. The first
part, entitled 'Reproductive Rhetorics', offers an overview of the ways in
which 'imprinting devices - seal, stamp, coin, and woodblock - have been used
to represent the workings of the mind and body' (52). Margreta de Grazia suggests
that our scepticism about the fixity of print may mesh with changes in 'our
assumptions about knowledge and sexuality' (53). Ann Thompson and John O.
Thompson provide a theoretical analysis of the use of metaphor and imagery
before focusing more specifically on the way these are applied to books and
printing. The two essays introduce an historical perspective and interrogation
of metaphor that informs the analysis of human and cultural artefacts in the
- Part II 'Ink and Kin' raises the paradox of male Renaissance poets who describe
their use of creative imagination through references to the female body. Even
those seen 'as the most aggressively 'masculine'', Ben Jonson or John Milton,
utilise maternal imagery (89). This complicates the traditional feminist account
of creativity most influentially stated in Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's
The Madwoman in the Attic. The 'problems of ambiguous figuration',
it is speculated, still 'haunt us today' (106). Ben Jonson is seen as the
Renaissance poet par excellence through which to explore the issues
of ink and kin. Both his careful attempts to control the layout of his printed
works, Sejanus and Volpone, and the moving poem written upon
the death of his son, Benjamin, demonstrate his attempt to 'master fate' through
'the act of writing'; an 'ideology of authorship' which presented barriers
to women, but was 'no unmixed blessing for men' either (141-2).
- The 'promiscuity' of the new printing press allowed for 'Issues of the Book
Trade' that were a source of excitement and anxiety to early modern English
culture. James A. Knapp examines sixteenth-century woodcut illustrations,
arguing that they 'complicate the visual space' of pages in this period and
challenge attempts to approach illustrations through a modernist aesthetic
that construes such woodcuts as 'popular' and 'crude'. This is symptomatic
of a tendency to separate Renaissance texts 'from the living world in which
they originally generated meaning' (166). Other progeny were abuse pamphlets,
such as the Nashe-Harvey controversy; the paratexts or 'front matter' that
played such a critical role in shaping the response of readers to a book's
content; cheap broadsides dealing with monstrous births; and the use of red
ink in books to generate 'meaning as blood on the early modern page as well
as on the stage', a kind of 'directed reading' (237).
- Many contributors draw a direct connection between the authority of the
father, the pen, and the printing press. Howard Marchitello, for example,
argues that James I's assertion of his royal prerogative above parliament,
and his defence of this in print, very naturally coincide in the figure of
his son: 'James enacts the role of both pater and pater patriae'
(303). However, Stephen Orgel poses a vigorous challenge to this network of
assumptions in his analysis of Lady Anne Clifford's marginalia on A Mirror
for Magistrates. Defending her rights as her father's heir 'entirely within
the system' of English courts, emphasising the importance of the reader in
producing a correct text, and referring to Ruth Raworth, a printer in her
own right, Orgel concludes that Clifford cannot be simply dismissed 'as an
exception that proves the universal rule of patriarchy' (288).
- The complexity of the relationship between printing and parenting and its
refusal to fit into a coherent linear historical narrative is further demonstrated
by the final section, 'Textual Legacies'. The case of Alice Walker illustrates
that women are still elided from patrilineal accounts of the development of
academic subjects. Similarly, the dilemmas posed for contemporary understandings
of parenthood by new reproductive technologies, which have led American courts
to invoke the notion of intellectual property as an analogy to human conception,
show that the relationship between procreation and authorship remains a resonant
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).