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The Gilded Page: The Secret Lives of Medieval Manuscripts

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A breathtaking journey into the hidden history of medieval manuscripts, from the Lindisfarne Gospels to the ornate Psalter of Henry VIII  Medieval manuscripts can tell us much about power and art, knowledge and beauty. Many have survived because of an author’s status—part of the reason we have so much of Chaucer’s writing, for example, is because he was a London-based gover A breathtaking journey into the hidden history of medieval manuscripts, from the Lindisfarne Gospels to the ornate Psalter of Henry VIII  Medieval manuscripts can tell us much about power and art, knowledge and beauty. Many have survived because of an author’s status—part of the reason we have so much of Chaucer’s writing, for example, is because he was a London-based government official first and a poet second. Other works by the less influential have narrowly avoided ruin, like the book of illiterate Margery Kempe, found in a country house closet, the cover nibbled on by mice. Scholar Mary Wellesley recounts the amazing origins of these remarkable manuscripts, surfacing the important roles played by women and ordinary people—the grinders, binders, and scribes—in their creation and survival.   The Gilded Page is the story of the written word in the manuscript age. Rich and surprising, The Gilded Page shows how the most exquisite objects ever made by human hands came from unexpected places. 


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A breathtaking journey into the hidden history of medieval manuscripts, from the Lindisfarne Gospels to the ornate Psalter of Henry VIII  Medieval manuscripts can tell us much about power and art, knowledge and beauty. Many have survived because of an author’s status—part of the reason we have so much of Chaucer’s writing, for example, is because he was a London-based gover A breathtaking journey into the hidden history of medieval manuscripts, from the Lindisfarne Gospels to the ornate Psalter of Henry VIII  Medieval manuscripts can tell us much about power and art, knowledge and beauty. Many have survived because of an author’s status—part of the reason we have so much of Chaucer’s writing, for example, is because he was a London-based government official first and a poet second. Other works by the less influential have narrowly avoided ruin, like the book of illiterate Margery Kempe, found in a country house closet, the cover nibbled on by mice. Scholar Mary Wellesley recounts the amazing origins of these remarkable manuscripts, surfacing the important roles played by women and ordinary people—the grinders, binders, and scribes—in their creation and survival.   The Gilded Page is the story of the written word in the manuscript age. Rich and surprising, The Gilded Page shows how the most exquisite objects ever made by human hands came from unexpected places. 

30 review for The Gilded Page: The Secret Lives of Medieval Manuscripts

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    https://sarahsdeepdives.blogspot.com/... It’s hard for me to put into words how much I loved reading this one. That really is all you need to know about it right there. Part history, part love letter to books, The Gilded Page really has everything I’ve ever wanted to read right here in one very neat, very well formatted, very well written package. Wellesley takes readers on a journey through history, exploring some remarkable manuscripts and what various clues left in them says about the authors https://sarahsdeepdives.blogspot.com/... It’s hard for me to put into words how much I loved reading this one. That really is all you need to know about it right there. Part history, part love letter to books, The Gilded Page really has everything I’ve ever wanted to read right here in one very neat, very well formatted, very well written package. Wellesley takes readers on a journey through history, exploring some remarkable manuscripts and what various clues left in them says about the authors of said historical gems. Detailing how the manuscript is discovered is only half the fun, but she takes a microscopic look at the clues left in the manuscript, echoes of history, and explains what they say about not just those who wrote it, but the time period itself. These details are often tantalizing in the extreme, telling readers just enough, without ever going overboard on weighty infodumps loaded with scholarly jargon. The Gilded Page never stops being a passionate book about books. Replete with valuable information, I never felt like I was being hit over the head with important facts, but rather led by the author through a twisting, turning maze of history and discovery, and insights provided by the clues left behind. In a strange way, reading this book made me feel like I was part of the process of discovery, and that made everything I learned feel that much more personal. Perhaps what surprised me the most about The Gilded Page was how accessible it was. I’ve tried to read books about medieval manuscripts before, but I often get weighed down by jargon, by things I feel like I should understand before going into the book. I’ve had a really hard time trying to find an entry-level nonfiction book that is both interesting and not held back by all the things I should already know. I was almost surprised, in fact, by how accessible Wellesley kept this book. Discussing history through a lens of both discovery and insinuation based on clues, and information scholars already have, The Gilded Page took me by the hand and led me through the winding corridor of knowledge that I have previously found too burdened by meaning for my blood, and helped me understand what I was reading. Wellesley gave me information that is applicable, in a way that made it matter. This book gave me a fantastic overview of medieval manuscripts without making me feel like I should have at least taken on university level course first. It’s not just the books she picks apart that kept me rooted in place, but how she used them as a jumping off point to often explore the world they came from, the time period, the people, and things that might have happened to the books along the way to the modern era. Editing is touched on, and how later editors perhaps modified the original author’s intent. Why some books were preserved and others weren’t. Who wrote the book, who sold it, why it was both written and sold is often as interesting as the manuscript itself. There is a lot of information we just don’t know about this time period, and some of what I learned was surprising. For example, how many women were involved in the manuscripts discussed here was unexpected. I also was surprised by many of the details about the art itself, from the tools used, the inks, the papers, and the like. Again, part of the reason why this was so impactful to me was because it was written in a way I understood, by an author who knew how to not just lecture about a topic but connect with her reader. Some of the books Wellesley covers are well known, and some less so. Instead of focusing solely on the books themselves, she takes a wider approach to all of them, and manages to show how time and place possibly influenced content. How tools of the trade changed over the years, and then tells stories of the things that likely happened around the manuscript that impacted how it was lost/found/damaged/disappeared/etc. Wellesley keeps her voice and passion throughout and peppers the book with interesting and often humorous stories. From Henry VIII scribbling in the margins of a psalter, to medieval poets writing odes to genitalia, The Gilded Page keeps a certain remarkable wit about it which is balanced perfectly on the edge of the author’s obvious passion. In the end, The Gilded Page was a book that was nearly impossible to put down. I read it in a few days, and then spent a few more days doing research to learn more about any number of the things I read about. Still, I find myself sitting here thinking, “Maybe I should re-read that book…”. It’s history the way it was meant to be written, engaging, fascinating, and informative, this book is one of those unforgettable marriages of passion and knowledge that sucked me in and refused to let me go. 5/5 stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    Read thanks to NetGalley. I loved this book. I already love medieval manuscripts and the stories that go along with them - about marginalia and the sheer effort that goes in to making one. What Wellesley has done here is look at manuscripts to understand the people who made them, used them, saved them, and occasionally caused their destruction. I read this in uncorrected proof, as an ebook (and there's some twisty lineage there from hand-written sheepskin to pixels), so I'm not sure whether the Read thanks to NetGalley. I loved this book. I already love medieval manuscripts and the stories that go along with them - about marginalia and the sheer effort that goes in to making one. What Wellesley has done here is look at manuscripts to understand the people who made them, used them, saved them, and occasionally caused their destruction. I read this in uncorrected proof, as an ebook (and there's some twisty lineage there from hand-written sheepskin to pixels), so I'm not sure whether the published version will have images, but that's about the only thing that would make this even more of a joy to read. An overview of the chapters will show just why this is such a fabulous book. Chapter 1: Discoveries. aka "near heart-attack-land at the idea that the Book of Margery Kempe was nearly not found." She uses just a couple of manuscript discoveries to show just how contingent our 21st century knowledge of, awareness of, and possession of such manuscripts is. Chapter 2: Near Disasters. Imagine me having heart palpitations at the fire in Ashburnham House, home of the Cotton collection and various other rather important bits of parchment. As above with the contingency, with added flames. Chapter 3: Patrons. Who wanted stories written about themselves, and who wanted their own copies of particular books (Henry VIII annotated his Book of Psalms. I have no problem with this, other than it reveals his colossal ego, equating himself with David.) Chapter 4: Artists. The images added to some manuscripts make them incredible works of art. Wellesley examines what is known about some of the people who did this work, their inspiration and their methods. Chapter 5: Scribes. Who did the physical act of writing... and that some of them were women. Chapter 6: Authors and scribes. Probably one of the hardest things for moderns to grasp is the lack of the concept of 'author' in the medieval period. If a student copies a quote without a reference, they're in trouble; 700 years ago, someone could copy out a story from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and stick it in their own collection of stuff with nary an acknowledgement (yes I am aware this happens today; it was less of a cause for hue and cry back in the day, for various reasons). Figuring out exactly who was the author of various things is the work of a lifetime for some historians. Chapter 7: Hidden Authors... basically carries on a similar idea from Chapter 6, but in particular looks at works written for (and by?) anchorites - people who had decided to get themselves walled away, to devote themselves more fully to Christ. The book's intrigue - who wrote it? who sold it? why do we only have one copy? It's got feminism - women wrote and read and commissioned and created. It's suffused with a love of books and reading, it's a celebration of books as objects, and it ends with Gutenberg and that weird interstitial period where some manuscripts were created by copying out the text from a printed book. And the author's voice is present throughout, which I found a lovely touch: what it was like to view a manuscript at the British Library, or a discovery as an undergrad, or an experience learning about the making of parchment. This is a wonderful book about books. Entirely accessible to the non-medievalist, in fact a great entry for those with no real conception of the medieval manuscript.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tracie

    If you enjoy the texture and smell of a manuscript or book and wonder about it's history or herstory, this book is a lovely read. Ms Wellesley describes fascinating documents , how they survived through time, and the frequently anonymous people behind their making. "The Gilded Page" has information on materials, medieval inks, and the modern discoveries of books thought lost. She ranges from the Cuthbert Gospel, Lindisfarne Gospels, the Book of Margery Kempe, and Beowulf, to the less well known, If you enjoy the texture and smell of a manuscript or book and wonder about it's history or herstory, this book is a lovely read. Ms Wellesley describes fascinating documents , how they survived through time, and the frequently anonymous people behind their making. "The Gilded Page" has information on materials, medieval inks, and the modern discoveries of books thought lost. She ranges from the Cuthbert Gospel, Lindisfarne Gospels, the Book of Margery Kempe, and Beowulf, to the less well known, Encomium Emmae Reginae, Luttrell Psalter, and the Book of Nunnaminster and more. She has sections on artists, scribes, and authors, fires, and other disasters and hypothesizes why some manuscripts were protected and others were not. She also questions how much editing has been done by scribes using the works of Chaucer as an example and what visions by later editors differed from the original author. I like that the author raises questions that cannot be answered but lead to discussion. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review. That said, I am a librarian and am grateful to those dedicated artists, authors, scribes and annotators.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Susan Paxton

    It's a symptom of my geekdom or useless bales of random knowledge, none of which has ever made me a dime, that the first thing I did on picking this up was to wonder who Mary Wellesley was related to. And indeed, she's the daughter of the ninth Duke of Wellington, which has nothing to do with her being an accomplished scholar and writer, but made me smile. Readers of the Wolfson History Prize winner from a few years ago, Christopher de Hamel's Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts, will really en It's a symptom of my geekdom or useless bales of random knowledge, none of which has ever made me a dime, that the first thing I did on picking this up was to wonder who Mary Wellesley was related to. And indeed, she's the daughter of the ninth Duke of Wellington, which has nothing to do with her being an accomplished scholar and writer, but made me smile. Readers of the Wolfson History Prize winner from a few years ago, Christopher de Hamel's Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts, will really enjoy this as Wellesley's approach is totally different and expanding. In each chapter she discusses a manuscript issue - Discoveries, Near Disasters, and Patrons are the first three - which gives her plenty of room to illuminate, as it were, the reader's knowledge of these wonderful survivors. Fascinating characters and events weave in and out with the manuscripts - Chaucer, St Cuthbert, the greedy and grasping Pastons, the saintly Dame Julian, the catastrophic fire that almost gave the only manuscript of Beowulf an appropriately Dark Ages send-off. It's great and compulsive reading. That said, one issue remains irritating. The book is illustrated by a selection of color plates that are not in any order related to the text nor referred to in the text ("see plate XIV"). That of course is the fault of the publisher, not the author, and while it detracts, I'll be awaiting Wellesley's next book with eager anticipation.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Simon Pressinger

    Not only is this a refreshing feminist reading of the production and life cycle of some of the world’s rarest books, but it also pieces together the traces of the lives of the authors, the scribes, the translators and patrons. There are lots of stories and details in here that I did not expect. For example, it’s a common assumption that medieval manuscripts were largely written and decorated by monks. But it was nuns and lay women who seem to have played a large part in the creation of all these Not only is this a refreshing feminist reading of the production and life cycle of some of the world’s rarest books, but it also pieces together the traces of the lives of the authors, the scribes, the translators and patrons. There are lots of stories and details in here that I did not expect. For example, it’s a common assumption that medieval manuscripts were largely written and decorated by monks. But it was nuns and lay women who seem to have played a large part in the creation of all these precious books that I’m never going to get to see up close. How about that hey? Mary Wellesley’s got an easy, accessible writing style. There’s a lot of Old English that she translates, and it’s interesting to see how the language evolves and develops over the centuries in medieval Britain. There’s also some gorgeous coloured reproductions of the different manuscripts she examines so be prepared to drool.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    I received The Gilded Page as part of a NetGalley giveaway. Medieval manuscripts contain a wealth of information beyond the words they communicate--from the physical makeup of the texts, to the art that complements them, to the marginal and contextual clues that illuminate (no pun intended) the writer's world. Mary Wellesley challenges popular attitudes towards manuscripts and the people that created them, discusses the circumstances behind their relative scarcity in the modern day, and brings to I received The Gilded Page as part of a NetGalley giveaway. Medieval manuscripts contain a wealth of information beyond the words they communicate--from the physical makeup of the texts, to the art that complements them, to the marginal and contextual clues that illuminate (no pun intended) the writer's world. Mary Wellesley challenges popular attitudes towards manuscripts and the people that created them, discusses the circumstances behind their relative scarcity in the modern day, and brings to life the all-too-often forgotten figures who nevertheless contributed greatly to the creative and intellectual life of the Middle Ages. This was a magnificent read. The prose is engaging and accessible, containing fascinating accounts of unlikely and unheralded medieval writers, artists, and craftsmen whose work has shined a rare light on a period about which we know relatively little. And many of these people were not the white male religious that we tend to visualize when we think of the creators of manuscripts. Learning about manuscripts, from their base materials to their textual and artistic development, to their loss and (sometimes) rediscovery in the early modern and modern periods, was a fascinating and enriching experience.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Beulah

    Secret messages encoded in medieval manuscripts by mysterious authors is such a Nancy Drew, Secret Seven, lemon-juice-to-create-invisible-ink concept that I defy any bibliophile not to snatch up The Gilded Page by Mary Wellesley. A carefully curated tour of the written word in medieval manuscripts. The Gilded Page touches on everything from Henry VIII scribbling his god complex into the margins of an ornate Psalter to medieval poets writing odes to genitalia. Wellesley clearly has an eye for the Secret messages encoded in medieval manuscripts by mysterious authors is such a Nancy Drew, Secret Seven, lemon-juice-to-create-invisible-ink concept that I defy any bibliophile not to snatch up The Gilded Page by Mary Wellesley. A carefully curated tour of the written word in medieval manuscripts. The Gilded Page touches on everything from Henry VIII scribbling his god complex into the margins of an ornate Psalter to medieval poets writing odes to genitalia. Wellesley clearly has an eye for the intriguing oddities of her chosen period, and she manages to include enough detail for an academic reader, with enough exposition and scandal to keep the casual reader hooked. Read the rest of the review on my blog.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    I found this book fascinating! Wellesley obviously loves books so dearly that I felt her to be a kindred spirit. She quotes Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham who said, "In books we climb mountains and scan the deepest gulfs of the abyss." Since I love everything to do with books and reading I was very interested to learn more about manuscripts - how they were made, how they survived, and what we learn from them. Wellesley says, " Manuscripts hold stories and snapshots of the lives of people we ot I found this book fascinating! Wellesley obviously loves books so dearly that I felt her to be a kindred spirit. She quotes Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham who said, "In books we climb mountains and scan the deepest gulfs of the abyss." Since I love everything to do with books and reading I was very interested to learn more about manuscripts - how they were made, how they survived, and what we learn from them. Wellesley says, " Manuscripts hold stories and snapshots of the lives of people we otherwise might not encounter - anonymous scribes, artists, and writers; people of a different social status than ourselves; people of different enthnicities and genders. And through manuscripts we can try to access something of their lives." This appears to be her thesis and she succeeded absolutely in convincing me of this. I admire the people I met here and I admit I also kind of loved the manuscripts themselves. Just a couple of things I learned: "... a scribe might produce about twenty books in his or her lifetime."(!); and, women called "anchoresses" committed to lives of absolutely solitude and devotion and were enclosed in tiny-rooms-for-one for the remainder of their lives - which was sometimes decades. Many were even buried in the floors there when they died. Fascinating manuscripts were written by and about them. If you love books you should read this. (Ending with a Reading Rainbow recommendation, if that's ok.)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amy Jane

    I understood very little about medieval manuscripts until I read this book. I’m not just talking about their content, but how, why and by who they were made and how they were used (or abused) over time. The author expertly leads the reader through some of the best know examples of manuscripts, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and Beowulf, but also (and this is where her passion really shows) some lesser-known examples of female authors. The fascinating stories of the medieval treasures selected I understood very little about medieval manuscripts until I read this book. I’m not just talking about their content, but how, why and by who they were made and how they were used (or abused) over time. The author expertly leads the reader through some of the best know examples of manuscripts, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and Beowulf, but also (and this is where her passion really shows) some lesser-known examples of female authors. The fascinating stories of the medieval treasures selected are brilliantly told, weaving detailed historic and linguistic analysis with anecdotal and personal thoughts. Richly illustrated too.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Humberto Ballesteros

    A fluidly written and meticulously researched account of the precious little we know of the lives of scribes and writers in medieval England, told via an overview of a handful of manuscripts. The author's learning and empathy shine through her words, and one feels at times as if one were holding, not Wellesley's book, but rather the ones she is writing about, so heartfelt and true are her love for them and her knowledge of them. Strongly recommended for anyone interested in medieval books, but a A fluidly written and meticulously researched account of the precious little we know of the lives of scribes and writers in medieval England, told via an overview of a handful of manuscripts. The author's learning and empathy shine through her words, and one feels at times as if one were holding, not Wellesley's book, but rather the ones she is writing about, so heartfelt and true are her love for them and her knowledge of them. Strongly recommended for anyone interested in medieval books, but also a guaranteed source of pleasure for any and all bibliophiles. The colorful plates of the hardcover edition are also worth mentioning —the quality is spectacular, and they illustrate wonderfully the main points of Wellesley's text.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dylan Simon

    I had the opportunity to read this book through Net Galley. Review: In college I considered medieval history to be my "hobby history" that I often read for fun because it was a complete break from my normal studies of Early Modern World, Modern World, American, Middle Eastern, and Diplomatic histories. For me the Middle Ages appear to be a fascinating time to study and it is a passion that I have shared in the classroom that I teach in. One area of interest to me is the concept of manuscript writ I had the opportunity to read this book through Net Galley. Review: In college I considered medieval history to be my "hobby history" that I often read for fun because it was a complete break from my normal studies of Early Modern World, Modern World, American, Middle Eastern, and Diplomatic histories. For me the Middle Ages appear to be a fascinating time to study and it is a passion that I have shared in the classroom that I teach in. One area of interest to me is the concept of manuscript writing and the process that scribes in this time went through in order to create some of the greatest works of literature that we know come from this time period. This is a very interesting topic that has even left me wishing I could have been alongside these scribes and seen how they went through their craft. I had always hoped to come across a great work rich in scholarship and narrative that could help shed light on this time frame. Thankfully Dr. Wellesley's book does just that! I felt as if I was right alongside her in the British Library as she examined some of the most well known works of Medieval literature such as Beowulf and Le Morte Darthur to lesser known works such as The Book of Margery Kemp. It has been fascinating to see these works broken down in great detail and even have their genesis explained by looking into how these and many other manuscripts came to be. With this book I think I finally have reached my goal of having some sort of sense into what it was like to be alongside those who worked collaboratively to create such epic manuscripts and I would recommend anyone else who would like to be alongside these individuals as I have always wished that they do in fact pick up this wonderful book!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    I received a review copy of this from the publisher Hatchette Book Group through NetGalley. An uncommon topic treated clearly passionately by Dr. Wellesley ("To sit in the silence of a special collections reading room and turn the pages of a medieval manuscript is to have tangible, smellable, visual encounters with the past. Parchment manuscripts have a particular scent that is hard to describe: acrid with undernotes suggesting an organic origin.") I liked all of the historical background and no I received a review copy of this from the publisher Hatchette Book Group through NetGalley. An uncommon topic treated clearly passionately by Dr. Wellesley ("To sit in the silence of a special collections reading room and turn the pages of a medieval manuscript is to have tangible, smellable, visual encounters with the past. Parchment manuscripts have a particular scent that is hard to describe: acrid with undernotes suggesting an organic origin.") I liked all of the historical background and notes before Dr. Wellesley even gets into the various gilded leaves. One example early in the book: a fifteenth century recipe for ink. Dr. Wellesley conveys some of the difficulties researchers have in their work with manuscripts: "Some questions cannot be answered by copies or surrogates. And when a manuscript is lost completely, many important clues to its provenance are lost with it." She talks about tragic losses and near-losses - fires, deliberate destruction, more. She talks about patronage, some of the artists who illustrated the manuscripts she researched, some of the scribes who copied them, the authors, and some texts whose authorship is unknown. Dr. Wellesley says "Because I love language and language forms, I have chosen, in almost all cases, to quote from original texts alongside modern translations." Because I love language and language forms...but am hampered by atrophied synapses that are not all that good at learning a new language... I so very much appreciate her quoting the originals and providing the translations. Despite that hampering, by the end of the book I could almost parse a bit of Old English! And understand a wee more of middle/early modern English. The Welsh? Whooee, what a jawcracker! I liked that she even translated early modern English, though those quotes were quite clear enough to me. A continuing theme throughout this book is the importance, involvement, patronage, roles as scribes women had in ancient manuscripts; and some of the history, and lost history, of female authorship. Dr. Wellesley describes one thirteenth century translation of Aesop's Fables with final lines that "mean that the text is the work of the earliest named female writer of secular literature in the European tradition: Marie de France. And yet we know almost nothing about her." Along with the theme, Dr. Wellesly recounts several instances of male revisions of female writings. Though Marie "raises women from a position of moral inferiority to one of greater equality", some scribes making copies of her Fables added and changed lines that changed the meaning. In one fable of a wolf and a sow, the sow outwits the wolf. Marie closes the fable with [the literal translation]"All women should hear this example and remember it: they should not let their children die for want of a lie." And yet The scribe of a fourteenth-century copy of "The Fables" in Cambridge changed this, however, turning the line "Que pur sulement mentir" (Only for want of a lie ) to "Por soulement lor cors garist" (Only to protect themselves). The change refashions this story of a protective mother into a suggestion that mothers might prioritize their own safety over that of their offspring. This is only one example: we see a pattern of misogynistic alterations in the manuscripts of Marie's "Fables." I found one other example especially interesting to me. It that showed that not "all the literature produced by female writers from medieval Britain was bound by stricture." The Welsh poet Gwerful Mechain (c. 1460-1502) wrote in a gloriously unrestricted way. Her surviving work is varied. She wrote the kind of religious verse common to her ere - the late fifteenth century = but she also wrote about topics that few, if any, medieval women writers discussed: unambiguous sexual desire, bodily functions, domestic violence.And"Cywydd y gont" is Gwerful Mechain's most famous poem, and the evidence of surviving manuscripts suggest it was also one of her most popular - it survives in thirteen copies. Perhaps part of its shocking, witty, joyous appeal was the way it took a familiar form and refashioned it. The poem is likely a response to Dafydd ap Gwilym's famous "Cywydd y Gal" [...]I'll leave it to the curious to look up what the titles of the two poems translate to. My one sadness with this book is that in at least the review copy I received, there were no actual illustrations of the works Dr. Wellesley cited. There are cumbersome urls in the notes, but they are largely ... cumbersome. Perhaps the publisher could also provide shortened links? I don't know if the final copy will have any of the gilded pages described. And also for the publisher/editor: In my copy, Chapter 6, there is a typo "Early printed editions of Chaucerf's work". And, in Chapter 7, the text reads "Once he'd had that insight, the code could be cracked as follows, with the words in italics indicating vowels:" The consonants in my copy were also italics, not just the words indicating the vowels. Yes, her text that follows that does have the described vowels italicized, but the repeat of the code was the same, with slight regrouping of the letters.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steve's Book Stuff

    Mary Wellesley loves medieval manuscripts and that love, and her knowledge of these ancient books / art objects, shines through in this fascinating book. Wellesley, a Research Affiliate at the British Library, takes a tour through a number of these books while providing informative background on how manuscripts were produced. Every medieval manuscript is unique, and manuscript creation is difficult for our modern minds to really understand. From the author (or authors, as many manuscripts are co Mary Wellesley loves medieval manuscripts and that love, and her knowledge of these ancient books / art objects, shines through in this fascinating book. Wellesley, a Research Affiliate at the British Library, takes a tour through a number of these books while providing informative background on how manuscripts were produced. Every medieval manuscript is unique, and manuscript creation is difficult for our modern minds to really understand. From the author (or authors, as many manuscripts are collections of various works), to the scribes, to the artists who illustrated (or "illuminated"), to the craftsmen who made the parchment, to the binders and makers of the covers - an individual manuscript required varied skills, passed through many hands, and could take years of tedious work to produce. When done, each manuscript would be difficult to recreate and was a prized possession above and beyond the knowledge it contained. I read the ebook so I'm not sure how many illustrations are included in the hard cover edition. But, it doesn't really matter as the footnotes in the book provide links and information that allow a reader to quickly jump to the British Library (where most of the books discussed are catalogued) and view online detailed images of the manuscript pages Wellesley describes. I did this a number of times and it really helps to solidify the information Wellesley is providing. Understanding these manuscripts means having a basic understanding of the times and society that produced them, and there is quite a bit of history in this book. She takes us from the early days of manuscript creation by monks and nuns to the late medieval / early modern time when creating manuscripts was a commercial activity alongside the production of books via printing press. Wellesley clearly has an interest in understanding the role women took in producing manuscripts, whether as authors or scribes, and provides a number of examples of both. There is a whole section devoted to anchoresses - women who devoted their lives to solitude, prayer and spiritual reflection, depriving themselves of earthly pleasures by allowing themselves to be locked away for life - imprisoned really - in tiny rooms often attached to their local churches. One of the few earthly activities they were allowed was to read and write (with the priest's permission of course). Wellesley describes one of the most well known anchoresses, and whether or not we can know how much of her story comes down to us in her own words. And that is what makes the book so interesting - Wellesley's ability to take us from the manuscripts she lovingly describes back into the world of their creators. I enjoyed the book and learned quite a bit. I give The Gilded Page Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐. NOTE: I received an advanced reviewer's copy of this book through NetGalley and Basic Books in exchange for a fair and honest review. The hardcover and ebook editions came out October 12, 2020.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Theediscerning

    This was an unusual example of my taste in the book concerned changing quite greatly whilst reading it, and it not being my fault. Too often I've found a break of even a few hours from a book bringing a difference of opinion about it – something I loved getting too wordy, something that seemed right up my street suddenly becoming facile exactly at the point I happened to need to break off. But even tackling this in a lengthy day I found the first couple of chapters much more appealing, much more This was an unusual example of my taste in the book concerned changing quite greatly whilst reading it, and it not being my fault. Too often I've found a break of even a few hours from a book bringing a difference of opinion about it – something I loved getting too wordy, something that seemed right up my street suddenly becoming facile exactly at the point I happened to need to break off. But even tackling this in a lengthy day I found the first couple of chapters much more appealing, much more in tune with the layman's expectations, than the ones that followed. What I began with was a very readable look at certain instances of pre-printing manuscripts – those artefacts on paper or vellum or whatever that shine a light almost into the dark ages. Looking in turn at how such cultural entities get lost for centuries and found by pure chance, or get burnt down or otherwise sadly destroyed, I found this really amenable. I come to this subject as the generic reader on the generic public transport system, and no more, and I found the fact we only used our windows on to the subjects to look at two or three instances pleasingly non-academical. But then things turned, and this book conspired to make me skip small sections. The life of a pre-Norman Queen of England (ish) was in a little too much detail to be fully relevant, and the look at Henry VIII's personally produced prayer book indeed as forensic as I might have feared. Towards the end we get what seemed like longueurs about a certain religious practice, and these too seemed to be writing around the subject. That doesn't make this a bad book – it does what it wants, cleverly picking certain relevant MSs to highlight what can be said about the illustrators, the copiers, and perhaps even the original authorial voices of these items. But it did make it one that the general public, the Mr Average such as I, might not fully thank the creators for. So at the risk of being called an impatient philistine, I might suggest this find much more favour from the specialist reader.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    I was fascinated by Medieval literature once upon a time but left it behind when I realized I'd never have my own personal wizard. The new movie, The Green Knight, got me fascinated all over with stories of saints doing weird things and other oddities of life. The Gilded Page, by Mary Wellesley, came along at the right time. Most Medieval manuscripts have been lost or destroyed through the ages, but the ones that survive have fascinating histories. We picture monks scribing away at illuminated b I was fascinated by Medieval literature once upon a time but left it behind when I realized I'd never have my own personal wizard. The new movie, The Green Knight, got me fascinated all over with stories of saints doing weird things and other oddities of life. The Gilded Page, by Mary Wellesley, came along at the right time. Most Medieval manuscripts have been lost or destroyed through the ages, but the ones that survive have fascinating histories. We picture monks scribing away at illuminated books, but there were nuns, secular people writing commercially, and more women scribes (called a scriptrix) than our modern minds can imagine. Talk about horror stories! That's what I mainly write about, but there were plenty of horrifying things going on in the Middle Ages. A few hundred men and women (mostly women) had themselves walled up in 12 square foot cells on the north side of churches, where they slept in their own graves and had a window looking out on the graveyard. They spent their lives there and at least one women lived to be seventy-three. They're in this book because they got a lot of writing done...as you can imagine. I can get a good horror story out of this. Without The Gilded Page, I never would have thought about a recluse being walled-up and having to hang out in her own grave. That gives me the crawlies! I realize that putting color photography in books is expensive, but illustrations of Ms. Wellesley's wonderful descriptions would be nice. This would make a wonderful coffee table book, but would probably cost a fortune. I'm interested enough that I'm going to google-up these manuscripts so I can see the beautiful artwork. Isn't that what a good book does, make you want to learn more? This is a dandy book for anybody interested in the history of books and/or Medieval history. Thanks to Netgalley for allowing me to read and review The Gilded Page.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    As Mary Wellesley writes, manuscripts are hand-written objects - artefacts and cultural landmarks, each teaching with history. The scripts, materials and bindings themselves tell stories and this book includes many of them. The sheer length of time they took to create was incredible. As a sampler embroiderer, stitching one letter can take ages so entire documents? Wow. Though my e-copy of this book sadly does not contain illustrations, I have seen many on my travels and they are breathtaking pie As Mary Wellesley writes, manuscripts are hand-written objects - artefacts and cultural landmarks, each teaching with history. The scripts, materials and bindings themselves tell stories and this book includes many of them. The sheer length of time they took to create was incredible. As a sampler embroiderer, stitching one letter can take ages so entire documents? Wow. Though my e-copy of this book sadly does not contain illustrations, I have seen many on my travels and they are breathtaking pieces of art. But that they are more than art is fascinating. The author describes the role of scribes. Amongst manuscripts discussed here are the Cuthbert Gospel which is important in its cultural implications and is the earliest intact book in Europe. One of my favourite stories here is about The Book of Margery Kempe. Another a destructive fire and the rescue mission to save the only surviving Beowulf manuscript. The descriptions of of the gorgeous decorative details are vivid, including the humanist script with a tiny frog in roses, snails, blackberries and a mouse. We learn about the scribes such as Eadfrith as well as scribe relationships with employers. Prior to reading this book I had no idea what anchoresses or anchorite cells were. Folded pages which we take for granted were groundbreaking in medieval times. I enjoyed learning about manuscript terminology, methods and watermarks. Anyone even remotely interested in manuscripts ought to read this treasure. My sincere thank you to Perseus Books, Basic Books and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this enticing book. The information is spectacular!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    If I could give this book more than five stars I would without hesitation. Books - the feel, the smell, the artwork, the mystery of their earliest creation - if you love them you need to read The Gilded Page. Even as a child I wondered about the people who copied books, women and men carefully replicating the magic that turned manuscripts into works of art. How did their personal opinions influence their work. What did they edit, either adding or subtracting. As an art history major and avid rea If I could give this book more than five stars I would without hesitation. Books - the feel, the smell, the artwork, the mystery of their earliest creation - if you love them you need to read The Gilded Page. Even as a child I wondered about the people who copied books, women and men carefully replicating the magic that turned manuscripts into works of art. How did their personal opinions influence their work. What did they edit, either adding or subtracting. As an art history major and avid reader this book spoke to me from the first page. The author introduces us to a sixteenth century girl named Elisabeth Danes who cherished her book so passionately that she wrote a threat in her book to warn would be thieves what would happen to them for their crime. In her words - "Thys ys Elisabeth danes boke he that stelyng shall be hanged by a croke (This is Elisabeth Danes's book, he that steals it shall be hanged by a crook - meaning a hook) I knew at that moment I was going to love this book. I could give so many examples in my review but I don't want to spoil a new readers pleasure of discovery within these pages. My thanks to the publisher Basic Books - Hatchette Book Group and to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Perseus Books for an advanced copy of this book on the history of manuscripts. In the book The Gilded Page: The Secret Lives of Medieval Manuscripts author Mary Wellesley has written a romance that spans the ages. The love that readers have for books, the duress that some people put themselves to create their masterworks, and the people who care and translate them. Ms. Wellesley describes the creation of manuscripts, from the making of ink, to the treatin My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Perseus Books for an advanced copy of this book on the history of manuscripts. In the book The Gilded Page: The Secret Lives of Medieval Manuscripts author Mary Wellesley has written a romance that spans the ages. The love that readers have for books, the duress that some people put themselves to create their masterworks, and the people who care and translate them. Ms. Wellesley describes the creation of manuscripts, from the making of ink, to the treating of parchment along with stories of creators and those who try to keep these books alive and available to scholars and laypeople. The book is wonderfully sourced, with facts and interesting asides on almost every page. To read about these people, what they did, and how they might have been lost to time except for their book is a real treat. As I read I felt for all those stories lost to rats, to rot, to fire and man's inability not to destroy things A perfect book for historians and bibliophiles. The book is packed with profiles of great and simple people offering a written portrait of their times. Simply a great read from a gifted author.

  19. 5 out of 5

    penny

    5/5 stars! Definitely a fun read, accessible to everyone. The Gilded Page is a non-fiction work focusing on medieval manuscripts. The author addresses the manuscripts themselves, their author, how they came to be, and much more. She tries to show ‘how manuscripts connect us to lives in the past’. This book is accessible to the general public. Even though there is Old English used, as well as specific terms to this field, there is a translation added into the book, as well as a glossary. The text i 5/5 stars! Definitely a fun read, accessible to everyone. The Gilded Page is a non-fiction work focusing on medieval manuscripts. The author addresses the manuscripts themselves, their author, how they came to be, and much more. She tries to show ‘how manuscripts connect us to lives in the past’. This book is accessible to the general public. Even though there is Old English used, as well as specific terms to this field, there is a translation added into the book, as well as a glossary. The text is informational, and the author brings up great discussion points. There are many interesting examples of manuscripts, scribes, and places included. All of them fit together and are well explained. It covers a large time period, but it doesn’t feel all over the place: everything comes together. It’s easy to feel the author’s passion for the subject. She is a scholar, and has seen many of the manuscripts mentioned in person. That passion and first-hand understanding of what she’s talking about makes for an engaging book. Being a woman herself, she made sure to include their presence in this book, and give them back their rightful place in history. If the topic of this book interests you, I would recommend picking it up. It’s easy to read and understand, and will take you on a fun journey. More than just facts, the author makes the manuscripts come to life. I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    Thank you to NetGalley and Basic Books for the chance to read an early copy of this book! THE GILDED PAGE is an interesting history book, chock full of details and fascinating historical figures (including surprisingly powerful women!). While it has an academic bent, the prose is still pretty accessible to the lay reader. I particularly loved that the author chose to include the original language of quotations as well as modern English translations--sometimes you can figure it out but things like Thank you to NetGalley and Basic Books for the chance to read an early copy of this book! THE GILDED PAGE is an interesting history book, chock full of details and fascinating historical figures (including surprisingly powerful women!). While it has an academic bent, the prose is still pretty accessible to the lay reader. I particularly loved that the author chose to include the original language of quotations as well as modern English translations--sometimes you can figure it out but things like Beowulf are pretty impenetrable, and you see how much English has evolved throughout history. The one drawback with this book, and it's a big one, is that it could really use pictures and illustrations, not just prose, to give you a sense of the size, condition, and legibility (or lack thereof) of the books she's referencing. There's information that will engage the attention of any history buff, bibliophile, or word lover, but it feels almost incomplete, like you have to go look up all the digital images to really get it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Vdplaats

    This is a fascinating and enjoyable read about manuscripts, and mainly focuses on how they were made (first chapters), by whom, how they were found, or how they were saved (tossed out the window during the Great Blaze in 1731!). Texts are also given in MIddle English - and give us a glimpse - at times in the form of a wordplay or riddle - , of what people were like, if they were young or old, in love, had children, what they did, et& I have always been fascinated by the Middle Ages (most favorite This is a fascinating and enjoyable read about manuscripts, and mainly focuses on how they were made (first chapters), by whom, how they were found, or how they were saved (tossed out the window during the Great Blaze in 1731!). Texts are also given in MIddle English - and give us a glimpse - at times in the form of a wordplay or riddle - , of what people were like, if they were young or old, in love, had children, what they did, et& I have always been fascinated by the Middle Ages (most favorite book The Name of the Rose) and have been doing calligraphy as a hobby for years, I can make paper look old, and use iron gall ink, but when I think how much work went into making these works of art, I can’t help but be humble. For further reference, I recommend Meeting with Remarkable Manuscripts (buy the hardcover!) and ‘Wereld in woorden’ by Frits van Oostrom (Dutch medieval literature 1300-1400). Thank you Netgalley for the advanced reader’s copy.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rian

    Big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for giving access to a digital ARC of this book! All thoughts and opinions are my own. This book is everything that I love about history. The author flawlessly analyzes and presents how something as simple as manuscripts can tell you so much more than just what is written there. Medieval manuscripts can tell you so much about the author and about the society they live in. Mary Wellesley seamlessly ties together the clues hidden in manuscripts and highligh Big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for giving access to a digital ARC of this book! All thoughts and opinions are my own. This book is everything that I love about history. The author flawlessly analyzes and presents how something as simple as manuscripts can tell you so much more than just what is written there. Medieval manuscripts can tell you so much about the author and about the society they live in. Mary Wellesley seamlessly ties together the clues hidden in manuscripts and highlights forgotten figures, bringing the manuscripts and the people who wrote them to life in such a magnificent way. This was so easy to read, not overwhelming or just a huge dump of information for you to wade through. The writing was very accessible and interesting and kept my attention the entire time. This will probably go down as one of my favorite non-fiction books ever.

  23. 4 out of 5

    kiers

    Arc received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This was a very interesting and informative read about the history of books, or well, manuscripts. I liked that it didn't just talk about the manuscripts themselves but about the people surrounding the creation of it. I also liked how the author put some focus on women, and shed some light on the unknown scribes, artists, and patrons that helped many manuscripts come about. I enjoyed the first few chapters compared to the later ones. I Arc received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This was a very interesting and informative read about the history of books, or well, manuscripts. I liked that it didn't just talk about the manuscripts themselves but about the people surrounding the creation of it. I also liked how the author put some focus on women, and shed some light on the unknown scribes, artists, and patrons that helped many manuscripts come about. I enjoyed the first few chapters compared to the later ones. I felt like there were a lot more interesting bits there, and that they weren't quite as wordy or chunky as the later ones, which did sort of make it a chore to read. Overall an enjoyable book despite its let downs, but I did learn a lot, so there's that.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Darla

    The Gilded Page explores not just Medieval manuscripts, but the world in which these manuscripts existed, and the forces that created, shaped, and preserved them. And while it serves as a highly researched exploration of the reasons and people who created these works of devotion and art, as well as what information we can glean from these texts in the modern day, overall I found the organization of the book to be a bit uneven. Some parts go into such detail that you forget if you’re reading abou The Gilded Page explores not just Medieval manuscripts, but the world in which these manuscripts existed, and the forces that created, shaped, and preserved them. And while it serves as a highly researched exploration of the reasons and people who created these works of devotion and art, as well as what information we can glean from these texts in the modern day, overall I found the organization of the book to be a bit uneven. Some parts go into such detail that you forget if you’re reading about manuscripts or the epistolary habits of the 14th/15th Century Such-and-Suches. There are also moments where the author inserts herself into the text with personal anecdotes that don’t contribute to the research being presented, and these felt a bit out of context with the rest of the content. Recommended for people looking for a general potpourri of Medieval/manuscript trivia, but not a historical deep-dive into manuscripts themselves. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    I really struggled to get through this. The information it contains is interesting, and there's a lot of great anecdotes included in here. I learned a lot. However, I constantly felt like I was making myself pick the book up and I think that mainly comes down to the narrative style. In terms of actual word choice the author's style and tone is casual and conversational, perfect for a book aimed at the general public. However, the book as a whole comes across as very academic in style. There's no I really struggled to get through this. The information it contains is interesting, and there's a lot of great anecdotes included in here. I learned a lot. However, I constantly felt like I was making myself pick the book up and I think that mainly comes down to the narrative style. In terms of actual word choice the author's style and tone is casual and conversational, perfect for a book aimed at the general public. However, the book as a whole comes across as very academic in style. There's no narrative through line making the book feel very piecemeal. There's also a lot of repetition in a way that is wearying without adding a sense of connection between the parts. If you're interested in the topic, give this book a try, but I did not find it a quick read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Wafflepirates

    *Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review* The Gilded Page is one if the best sort of nonfiction, it's an interesting topic that's been well researched and well written. The author takes a look at medieval manuscripts from England, discussing their creation, illustrations, themes, scribes, and authors. It's a very comprehensive look without being too overwhelming. I liked that the author didn't focus on only the religious manuscripts, a *Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review* The Gilded Page is one if the best sort of nonfiction, it's an interesting topic that's been well researched and well written. The author takes a look at medieval manuscripts from England, discussing their creation, illustrations, themes, scribes, and authors. It's a very comprehensive look without being too overwhelming. I liked that the author didn't focus on only the religious manuscripts, and instead highlighted many secular works and poetry as well, with many named female scribes and writers being discussed.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gena DeBardelaben

    eARC: Netgalley I loved this book. Absolutely totally loved it! If you're like me and the smell, the weight, the texture of an old book in your hands makes your heart sing then you'll love it too. The author delves deeply into the history of old manuscripts and makes them come alive. How fascinating to learn, not just about how they were created, but also about the people who once owned these manuscripts...some over a millennium ago. It's astonishing they've survived so long and breathtaking when eARC: Netgalley I loved this book. Absolutely totally loved it! If you're like me and the smell, the weight, the texture of an old book in your hands makes your heart sing then you'll love it too. The author delves deeply into the history of old manuscripts and makes them come alive. How fascinating to learn, not just about how they were created, but also about the people who once owned these manuscripts...some over a millennium ago. It's astonishing they've survived so long and breathtaking when you read how close some of them came to bring destroyed. This is a treasure I'm sure to read time and time again!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Meaghan Babin

    This book is a really great read for lover's of the history of manuscripts and how they survived through time. The Gilded Page is a really interesting read if you've ever wanted to know the materials, ink processes and modern discoveries related to manuscripts. It also explores manuscripts through a wide swath of times and periods. I love books and reading about the history of books so I just really enjoyed this little golden nugget of joy. This book is a really great read for lover's of the history of manuscripts and how they survived through time. The Gilded Page is a really interesting read if you've ever wanted to know the materials, ink processes and modern discoveries related to manuscripts. It also explores manuscripts through a wide swath of times and periods. I love books and reading about the history of books so I just really enjoyed this little golden nugget of joy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Annarella

    My godfather was an archivist and worked with ancient manuscripts so I grew up hearing stories about how them This well researched and compelling book is about manuscripts, how they were written, the authors and their life. It was a fascinating and informative read, a must read if you love books. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    The Gilded Page by Mary Wellesley is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early October. Manuscripts from the medieval era being discovered, their origins, conditions that have befallen them, and the lives of artists (their names sometimes known and sometimes just given, i.e. an observational nickname), scribes, and their patrons. In all, it's lengthy and dry, like a rope on a dock. The Gilded Page by Mary Wellesley is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early October. Manuscripts from the medieval era being discovered, their origins, conditions that have befallen them, and the lives of artists (their names sometimes known and sometimes just given, i.e. an observational nickname), scribes, and their patrons. In all, it's lengthy and dry, like a rope on a dock.

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