Burke and Gibson 2004

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Burke, Victoria E. and Jonathan Gibson. Early Modern Women's Manuscript Writing. Selected Papers from the Trinity/Trent Colloquium. Burlington: Ashgate, 2004.

Reading Bells and Loose Papers: Reading and Writing Practices of the English Benedictine Nuns of Cambrai and Paris, by Heather Wolfe (135-156)

Father Augustine Baker, nuns' spiritual director from 1624-1633

wrote out manuscripts of spiritual instruction; taught nuns how to read

  • prior to being nuns, women read books out of curiosity or to pass the time
  • as nuns, they read for instruction, put away what they learn until they can act on it it, "putt it in execution" (138)
  • continues humunaist metaphor of reading as digestion
"Many early printed books that belonged to the Paris community still contain small slips of paper containing prayers, acts, aspirations, and other notes in seventeenth0century hands." (140)
"A nun continually had to evaluate her relationship with the written word in order to successfully prosecute Baker's directions, while at the same time working within the boundaries set by his conception of a woman's soul. Her reading strategy evolved as she evolved as a reader, according to the level of her learning, her natural ability and her stage of mental prayer." (141)
"reading both facilitated and inhibited the course towards mystic union, since the goal was to reach a point where reading became unnecessary and in fact detrimental to one's spiritual growth. ... The final moment of reading was when a nun became a passive reader, or a listener, of a text inscribed internally." (142)

nuns could keep their own commonplace books;

  • Gertrude More "refers to herself as the 'writer gatherer' who writes to praise God and to 'stir vp my poor frozen soul'. This is an instance of the natural progression from reading to writing back to reading -- 'I read what I write of thee' -- she gathers matter in order to invent matter, she writes down the matter in order to read it, she reads it in order to process it and transform it into acts and aspirations that occur spontaneously and passively" (143)
  • Barbara Constable, over 3000 pages or writing; used writing not for vanity but to keep her from idleness

most writing at Cambrai and Paris falls between More/Gascoigne

  • "The most common form of writing at Cambrai and Paris, after transcribing, was the compiling of personal devotions. these compilations consisted of prayers, instructions, parables, acts, aspirations, engravings and drawings, some of which were original, some extracted from Baker, some borrowed from other sources. The combination of written and pictorial cues provided 'matter' for their prayer, and like Baker's treatises, these manuscript miscellanies included a combination of instructional material and actual examples." (146)
  • "While a nun initially compiled material for her own use, her collection would often take on a second life as a communal document. Even though mental prayer was a very personalized experience, nuns could benefit from the fragments collected by other nuns in the community." (146)
  • "Some of the surviving collections are in multiple hands and appear to have been compiled from a variety of loose papers in the community over an extended period of time; in these, engravings of saints, as well as engravings of Baker and Dames Catherine Gascoigne and Gertrude More, have been removed from printed works and affixed on leaves, sometimes with short prayers written around their borders." (147) -- Colwich MSS H22, H23

copying texts

  • "While most secular scribal communities of the seventeenth century produced political, topical and ephemeral material, the emphasis in this scribal community was posterity and accuracy, much in the tradition of the pre-Reformation monastic scriptoria which authorized texts by controlling their production." (150)