Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain

Reading, Ownership, Circulation
Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Sauer, Editors
Rediscovering and reframing the rich and multifaceted history of early modern British women’s book ownership and library compilation


Women in 16th- and 17th-century Britain read, annotated, circulated, inventoried, cherished, criticized, prescribed, and proscribed books in various historically distinctive ways. Yet, unlike that of their male counterparts, the study of women’s reading practices and book ownership has been an elusive and largely overlooked field.

In thirteen probing essays, Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain brings together the work of internationally renowned scholars investigating key questions about early modern British women’s figurative, material, and cultural relationships with books. What constitutes evidence of women’s readerly engagement? How did women use books to achieve personal, political, religious, literary, economic, social, familial, or communal goals? How does new evidence of women’s libraries and book usage challenge received ideas about gender in relation to knowledge, education, confessional affiliations, family ties, and sociability? How do digital tools offer new possibilities for the recovery of information on early modern women readers?

The volume’s three-part structure highlights case studies of individual readers and their libraries; analyses of readers and readership in the context of their interpretive communities; and new types of scholarly evidence—lists of confiscated books and convent rules, for example—as well as new methodologies and technologies for ongoing research. These essays dismantle binaries of private and public; reading and writing; female and male literary engagement and production; and ownership and authorship.

Interdisciplinary, timely, cohesive, and concise, this collection’s fresh, revisionary approaches represent substantial contributions to scholarship in early modern material culture; book history and print culture; women’s literary and cultural history; library studies; and reading and collecting practices more generally.

Jacket: Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606–1669). Saskia van Uylenburgh Sitting by a Window. Pen and brown ink, brown wash, black chalk, 164 × 125 mm. Photo: Jozsa
Denes. © The Museum of Fine Arts Budapest/Scala/Art Resource, NY.

Leah Knight is Associate Professor of English Language and Literature at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario. Micheline White is Associate Professor in the College of the Humanities, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario. Elizabeth Sauer is Professor of English Language and Literature at Brock University.

Praise / Awards

  • "The study of private libraries and book ownership is one of many aspects of the broader book-historical landscape which has been much developed in recent years, but work in this area is not entirely new; books and articles on the history of book-collecting were being published a hundred years ago. What was not being written about then was the role which women played in this area: the extent to which they were book owners and readers alongside their brothers and husbands. ... Women’s Bookscapes is a very welcome, and warmly recommended, step along the way."
    -- Library & Information History
  • "The best of these collections, though, is Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation, edited by Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Sauer, which focuses on women’s reading, writing, responding, and collecting practices." - Professor Ryan Netzley, SEL: Studies in English Literature Review
  • "With an impressive list of contributors and thirteen excellent essays, this book also achieves what a single-authored work cannot: diversity of skills and approaches, true breadth of knowledge, as well as the usual deep-dive of synchronic expertise." - Melanie Bigold, Studies in English Literary Culture
  • "... a landmark in scholarship on early modern women’s writing in Britain... It speaks to the heterogeneous approaches of the community of scholars at work in assembling this collection, as well as the varied individuals, communities, and practices of early modern bookscapes that the collection so vividly and cogently represents." - Rosalind Smith, Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal

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Product Details

  • 312 pages.
  • 13 images.
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  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12443-5

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