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Books under Suspicion

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Awards

Winner of the 2007 John Ben Snow Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies

Winner of the 2010 Haskins Gold Medal from the Medieval Academy of America

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Books under Suspicion

Censorship and Tolerance of Revelatory Writing in Late Medieval England

Kathryn Kerby-Fulton

“In her monumental Books Under Suspicion, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton offers a brilliantly nuanced, sharply revisionist account of intellectual freedom in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. She presents us with a far less insular England than we are used to seeing–-an England swept by fierce, invigorating, often stormy theological winds from across the Channel. In this narrative Lollards rub shoulders with Joachite prophets, Free Spirit mystics, Continental visionaries, and radical Ockhamists, and the most threatening targets of censure or censorship are not necessarily the ones we would have guessed. Kerby-Fulton brings unparalleled precision to her study of tolerance and repression directed at ‘the left wing of orthodoxy.’ " — Barbara Newman, Northwestern University

“Now and again a study appears that in its particular combination of authorial talents, new materials, and fresh approach dramatically moves our shared scholarly enterprise forward. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s Books Under Suspicion is precisely such an achievement. Kerby-Fulton is at once a careful and sensitive literary reader, a learned and rigorous intellectual historian, and an able writer of crisp English prose. The subject of Books Under Suspicion is the anxious world of late medieval English readers and writers. Censorship arises only when people believe that books matter. Kerby-Fulton shows us with admirable learning just how passionately the arbiters of religious orthodoxy and social order thought they mattered in late medieval England. The book is, among other things, an important new chapter in the history of ideas and the passionate contest for their control.” — John V. Fleming, Princeton University

“In this ambitious study of the circulation and censorship of visionary theologies in later medieval England, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton undertakes a thorough overhaul of what we think we know about many aspects of English religious thought and offers a reproof to the habit of treating it in splendid isolation from wider European developments. Learned, impassioned, and rich in new insights, arguments, and evidences, there is enough material here to keep scholars busy for years. A remarkable achievement.” — Nicholas Watson, Harvard University

“Kerby-Fulton has given us a book that is alert, wide-ranging, learned, and refreshingly, beautifully spacious: received accounts of literary and theological controversy in late-medieval England now, by contrast, look paltry and blinkered. Books under Suspicion shows how cosmopolitan, how edgy and intense and unpredictable, the intellectual culture that generated this writing was; she honors its seriousness by this treatment, and raises the bar for the rest of us.” — Steven Justice, University of California, Berkeley

Books Under Suspicion: Censorship and Tolerance of Revelatory Writing in Late Medieval England examines the censorship issues that propelled the major writers of the period toward their massive use of visionary genres. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton suggests that writers and translators as different as Chaucer, Langland, Julian of Norwich, “M.N.,” and Margery Kempe positioned their work to take advantage of the tacit toleration that both religious and secular authorities extended to revelatory theology. The book examines controversial ideas as diverse as the early experimental humanism of Chaucer, censured beatific vision theology and the breakdown of Langland’s A Text, the English reception of M.N.‘s translation of Marguerite Porete’s condemned book, Julian’s authorial suppression of her gender, and the impact of suspect Continental women’s activism on Kempe.

Kerby-Fulton also narrates success stories of intellectual freedom, tracing evidence of ecclesiastical tolerance of revelation, the impossibility of official censorship in a manuscript culture, and the powerful, protected reading circles for radical apocalypticism and mysticism, such as those of the Austins and the Carthusians. Until now, Wycliffism has been seen as the only significant unorthodox or radical body of writings in late medieval England. Books Under Suspicion is the first comprehensive study of banned non-Wycliffite materials in Insular writing during the period of the Avignon and Great Schism papacies.

This weighty, complex, and rewarding book makes use of neglected material in manuscripts and archives to reconstruct new aspects of the history of religious thought and vernacular writing in Ricardian and early Lancastrian England. As such it will interest scholars of late medieval religious history and Middle English literary history.

ISBN: 978-0-268-03323-1
616 pages
Publication Year: 2006

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Kathryn Kerby-Fulton is Notre Dame Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author and editor of a number of books, including most recently Voices in Dialogue: Reading Women in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame Press, 2005), co-edited with Linda Olson.

“Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s Books under Suspicion is among the major books of the decade in medieval English studies. In this monumental volume on academic freedom and its discontents, Kerby-Fulton has given us nothing less than a new intellectual history of theological pluralism, dissent, and the limits of tolerance in the late Middle Ages. . .”. — The Catholic Historical Review

“In many ways, this is a bravura display of book history. By building her study of manuscripts as much as texts, Kerby-Fulton has—perhaps fully, for the first time in an English context—uncovered the complex dynamics of learned communities in the Black Death period, the undermighty nature of the Oxford and Cambridge schoolrooms by comparison with the intellectual inventiveness and intrigue, and the publishing power of the communities of mendicants, monks, and professional clerks in the provinces.” — American Historical Review

“Kerby-Fulton’s admirable book is necessary reading for all who are interested in the textual culture of England at the end of the middle ages.” — The English Historical Review

“With Books Under Suspicion, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton has accomplished something remarkable. This far-reaching study does nothing less than shift the paradigms with which we think about such fundamental categories as heterodoxy, orthodoxy, theology, and revelation in relation to fourteenth- and fifteenth-century English religious cultures. Her original, painstaking study of manuscripts also leads us to revise our thinking about major canonical English writers including Chaucer, Langland, Julian of Norwich, and Margery Kempe . . . No scholar or student of Middle English literature, or medieval English religion, should be without this sophisticated, groundbreaking volume.” — Church History

“Kathryn Kerby-Fulton concentrates on the reign of Richard II . . . and contends that total censorship was a more subtle process before the uniformity imposed by the printed book. . . . Using the evidence of official intervention, of audience response—that is, annotation, manuscript context, ownership or early provenance—as well as of quotation and imitation, and dealing primarily with theological texts in English, she finds patterns suggesting that constraint rather than censorship may be the appropriate term to describe controls over the transmission and reception of medieval writings. . . . [The] book will spark controversy, making many of us re-examine old assumptions.” — Times Literary Supplement

“In Books Under Suspicion, Kerby-Fulton brings this second image of medieval culture brilliantly to life in the specific instance of attitudes toward revelatory writing in England from 1329 to 1437, a period of robust tolerance, and on the whole, as she puts it, ‘an age of failed censorship.’ . . . Books Under Suspicion is bound to mark a turning point in scholars’ understanding of the pervasive cultural awareness and tolerance of heterodox theology in late-medieval England. That turning point will be evident not only in scholars’ use of the wealth of information and insight that Kerby-Fulton makes available in this book but also in the new research it will stimulate.” — Journal of the Early Book Society

“Kerby-Fulton modestly claims that hers is but a beginning study that only suggests lines of enquiry. Possibly, but her detailed study and observations make this a bedrock for further study on Medieval censorship. It belongs in academic libraries supporting graduate study in religious or literary history.” — Catholic Library World

“Engagingly written and persuasively argued, it provides a tremendously nuanced view of a period of religious debate and censorship that has been all too easily flattened in contemporary scholarship. . . . The excitement one gains in reading Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s work is exceeded only by the awareness of the richness of scholarship yet to come that will continue to explore the wide range of theological speculation and revelatory prophecy in late medieval England.” — Comitatus

“Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s latest book will rapidly become essential reading for scholars of medieval literature. In her study of the reception history of various prophetic and visionary writings, she has provided a thoroughly revisionist account of theological politics in England in the late medieval period.” — College Literature

“In Kerby-Fulton’s account, the mercurial resources of revelatory writing not only surmount a variety of attempted censorships but also make their way into the world without awaiting or requiring tolerance’s permission. Formidably learned, staunchly argued, controversial in every good sense of the word, this is work that demands and merits serious attention and engagement.” — Modern Philology

“_Books under Suspicion_ is a bold intervention in the field of late-medieval English studies. It is informed throughout by formidable energy, commitment, confidence, and indefatigable enthusiasm in the pursuit of scholarly enquiry. Kerby-Fulton has the essential gift of knowing which questions to ask next.” — Journal of American Academy of Religion

“_Books Under Suspicion_ is an enormously learned and important book that promises to decisively change the traditional story of religious censorship in pre-Reformation England. . . . This is a book to be read slowly and often. It will change the landscape of late medieval spirituality in England and provides a new, richer, and more dangerous context for many of our best-loved authors.” — The Medieval Review

“Kerby-Fulton’s book simply rewrites the history of heterodoxy in late-medieval England. . . . It would be hard to walk away from the book with any assumptions intact about medieval England’s insularity, its impermeability to Continental heterodoxy, and its total domination by Wycliffism. . . . Kerby-Fulton’s stunning codicological work is the book’s greatest resource, and its ambition its most admirable trait. She has done a great service to the profession with this book, and it will prove a monument of literary scholarship in years to come.” — Yearbook of Langland Studies

“Kerby-Fulton’s monumental work serves modern scholars as a guide to the complexity of English manuscript culture as it relates to visionary writing and the censoring pressure it both invited and resisted. Engaging with the demands of Books under Suspicion will take the reader into a world of medieval writing and reading that cannot be contained by our own sense of disciplinary boundaries.” — Rocky Mountain Review

“In many ways, this is a bravura display of book history. By building her study of manuscripts as much as texts, Kerby-Fulton has—perhaps fully, for the first time in an English context—uncovered the complex dynamics of learned communities in the Black Death period, the undermighty nature of the Oxford and Cambridge schoolrooms by comparison with the intellectual inventiveness and intrigue, and the publishing power of the communities of mendicants, monks, and professional clerks in the provinces.” — American Historical Review

“Books Under Suspicion_ offers much for the study of early modern religion and literature . . . [It] will surely be required reading for all scholars of late medieval English literary and intellectual history for at least decades to come, inspiring as it does not so much suspicion as admiration.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

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P03125

New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies and Reading Practices

Essays in Honor of Derek Pearsall


Edited by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, John J. Thompson, and Sarah Baechle

P03310

Piers Plowman and the Poetics of Enigma

Riddles, Rhetoric, and Theology

Curtis A. Gruenler

P03262

Michael Psellos on Literature and Art

A Byzantine Perspective on Aesthetics

Michael Psellos
Edited by Charles Barber and Stratis Papaioannou

P03241

Outsiders

The Humanity and Inhumanity of Giants in Medieval French Prose Romance

Sylvia Huot

Books under Suspicion

Censorship and Tolerance of Revelatory Writing in Late Medieval England

Kathryn Kerby-Fulton

 Books under Suspicion: Censorship and Tolerance of Revelatory Writing in Late Medieval England
Paper Edition

“In her monumental Books Under Suspicion, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton offers a brilliantly nuanced, sharply revisionist account of intellectual freedom in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. She presents us with a far less insular England than we are used to seeing–-an England swept by fierce, invigorating, often stormy theological winds from across the Channel. In this narrative Lollards rub shoulders with Joachite prophets, Free Spirit mystics, Continental visionaries, and radical Ockhamists, and the most threatening targets of censure or censorship are not necessarily the ones we would have guessed. Kerby-Fulton brings unparalleled precision to her study of tolerance and repression directed at ‘the left wing of orthodoxy.’ " — Barbara Newman, Northwestern University

“Now and again a study appears that in its particular combination of authorial talents, new materials, and fresh approach dramatically moves our shared scholarly enterprise forward. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s Books Under Suspicion is precisely such an achievement. Kerby-Fulton is at once a careful and sensitive literary reader, a learned and rigorous intellectual historian, and an able writer of crisp English prose. The subject of Books Under Suspicion is the anxious world of late medieval English readers and writers. Censorship arises only when people believe that books matter. Kerby-Fulton shows us with admirable learning just how passionately the arbiters of religious orthodoxy and social order thought they mattered in late medieval England. The book is, among other things, an important new chapter in the history of ideas and the passionate contest for their control.” — John V. Fleming, Princeton University

“In this ambitious study of the circulation and censorship of visionary theologies in later medieval England, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton undertakes a thorough overhaul of what we think we know about many aspects of English religious thought and offers a reproof to the habit of treating it in splendid isolation from wider European developments. Learned, impassioned, and rich in new insights, arguments, and evidences, there is enough material here to keep scholars busy for years. A remarkable achievement.” — Nicholas Watson, Harvard University

“Kerby-Fulton has given us a book that is alert, wide-ranging, learned, and refreshingly, beautifully spacious: received accounts of literary and theological controversy in late-medieval England now, by contrast, look paltry and blinkered. Books under Suspicion shows how cosmopolitan, how edgy and intense and unpredictable, the intellectual culture that generated this writing was; she honors its seriousness by this treatment, and raises the bar for the rest of us.” — Steven Justice, University of California, Berkeley

Books Under Suspicion: Censorship and Tolerance of Revelatory Writing in Late Medieval England examines the censorship issues that propelled the major writers of the period toward their massive use of visionary genres. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton suggests that writers and translators as different as Chaucer, Langland, Julian of Norwich, “M.N.,” and Margery Kempe positioned their work to take advantage of the tacit toleration that both religious and secular authorities extended to revelatory theology. The book examines controversial ideas as diverse as the early experimental humanism of Chaucer, censured beatific vision theology and the breakdown of Langland’s A Text, the English reception of M.N.‘s translation of Marguerite Porete’s condemned book, Julian’s authorial suppression of her gender, and the impact of suspect Continental women’s activism on Kempe.

Kerby-Fulton also narrates success stories of intellectual freedom, tracing evidence of ecclesiastical tolerance of revelation, the impossibility of official censorship in a manuscript culture, and the powerful, protected reading circles for radical apocalypticism and mysticism, such as those of the Austins and the Carthusians. Until now, Wycliffism has been seen as the only significant unorthodox or radical body of writings in late medieval England. Books Under Suspicion is the first comprehensive study of banned non-Wycliffite materials in Insular writing during the period of the Avignon and Great Schism papacies.

This weighty, complex, and rewarding book makes use of neglected material in manuscripts and archives to reconstruct new aspects of the history of religious thought and vernacular writing in Ricardian and early Lancastrian England. As such it will interest scholars of late medieval religious history and Middle English literary history.

ISBN: 978-0-268-03323-1

616 pages

“Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s Books under Suspicion is among the major books of the decade in medieval English studies. In this monumental volume on academic freedom and its discontents, Kerby-Fulton has given us nothing less than a new intellectual history of theological pluralism, dissent, and the limits of tolerance in the late Middle Ages. . .”. — The Catholic Historical Review

“In many ways, this is a bravura display of book history. By building her study of manuscripts as much as texts, Kerby-Fulton has—perhaps fully, for the first time in an English context—uncovered the complex dynamics of learned communities in the Black Death period, the undermighty nature of the Oxford and Cambridge schoolrooms by comparison with the intellectual inventiveness and intrigue, and the publishing power of the communities of mendicants, monks, and professional clerks in the provinces.” — American Historical Review

“Kerby-Fulton’s admirable book is necessary reading for all who are interested in the textual culture of England at the end of the middle ages.” — The English Historical Review

“With Books Under Suspicion, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton has accomplished something remarkable. This far-reaching study does nothing less than shift the paradigms with which we think about such fundamental categories as heterodoxy, orthodoxy, theology, and revelation in relation to fourteenth- and fifteenth-century English religious cultures. Her original, painstaking study of manuscripts also leads us to revise our thinking about major canonical English writers including Chaucer, Langland, Julian of Norwich, and Margery Kempe . . . No scholar or student of Middle English literature, or medieval English religion, should be without this sophisticated, groundbreaking volume.” — Church History

“Kathryn Kerby-Fulton concentrates on the reign of Richard II . . . and contends that total censorship was a more subtle process before the uniformity imposed by the printed book. . . . Using the evidence of official intervention, of audience response—that is, annotation, manuscript context, ownership or early provenance—as well as of quotation and imitation, and dealing primarily with theological texts in English, she finds patterns suggesting that constraint rather than censorship may be the appropriate term to describe controls over the transmission and reception of medieval writings. . . . [The] book will spark controversy, making many of us re-examine old assumptions.” — Times Literary Supplement

“In Books Under Suspicion, Kerby-Fulton brings this second image of medieval culture brilliantly to life in the specific instance of attitudes toward revelatory writing in England from 1329 to 1437, a period of robust tolerance, and on the whole, as she puts it, ‘an age of failed censorship.’ . . . Books Under Suspicion is bound to mark a turning point in scholars’ understanding of the pervasive cultural awareness and tolerance of heterodox theology in late-medieval England. That turning point will be evident not only in scholars’ use of the wealth of information and insight that Kerby-Fulton makes available in this book but also in the new research it will stimulate.” — Journal of the Early Book Society

“Kerby-Fulton modestly claims that hers is but a beginning study that only suggests lines of enquiry. Possibly, but her detailed study and observations make this a bedrock for further study on Medieval censorship. It belongs in academic libraries supporting graduate study in religious or literary history.” — Catholic Library World

“Engagingly written and persuasively argued, it provides a tremendously nuanced view of a period of religious debate and censorship that has been all too easily flattened in contemporary scholarship. . . . The excitement one gains in reading Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s work is exceeded only by the awareness of the richness of scholarship yet to come that will continue to explore the wide range of theological speculation and revelatory prophecy in late medieval England.” — Comitatus

“Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s latest book will rapidly become essential reading for scholars of medieval literature. In her study of the reception history of various prophetic and visionary writings, she has provided a thoroughly revisionist account of theological politics in England in the late medieval period.” — College Literature

“In Kerby-Fulton’s account, the mercurial resources of revelatory writing not only surmount a variety of attempted censorships but also make their way into the world without awaiting or requiring tolerance’s permission. Formidably learned, staunchly argued, controversial in every good sense of the word, this is work that demands and merits serious attention and engagement.” — Modern Philology

“_Books under Suspicion_ is a bold intervention in the field of late-medieval English studies. It is informed throughout by formidable energy, commitment, confidence, and indefatigable enthusiasm in the pursuit of scholarly enquiry. Kerby-Fulton has the essential gift of knowing which questions to ask next.” — Journal of American Academy of Religion

“_Books Under Suspicion_ is an enormously learned and important book that promises to decisively change the traditional story of religious censorship in pre-Reformation England. . . . This is a book to be read slowly and often. It will change the landscape of late medieval spirituality in England and provides a new, richer, and more dangerous context for many of our best-loved authors.” — The Medieval Review

“Kerby-Fulton’s book simply rewrites the history of heterodoxy in late-medieval England. . . . It would be hard to walk away from the book with any assumptions intact about medieval England’s insularity, its impermeability to Continental heterodoxy, and its total domination by Wycliffism. . . . Kerby-Fulton’s stunning codicological work is the book’s greatest resource, and its ambition its most admirable trait. She has done a great service to the profession with this book, and it will prove a monument of literary scholarship in years to come.” — Yearbook of Langland Studies

“Kerby-Fulton’s monumental work serves modern scholars as a guide to the complexity of English manuscript culture as it relates to visionary writing and the censoring pressure it both invited and resisted. Engaging with the demands of Books under Suspicion will take the reader into a world of medieval writing and reading that cannot be contained by our own sense of disciplinary boundaries.” — Rocky Mountain Review

“In many ways, this is a bravura display of book history. By building her study of manuscripts as much as texts, Kerby-Fulton has—perhaps fully, for the first time in an English context—uncovered the complex dynamics of learned communities in the Black Death period, the undermighty nature of the Oxford and Cambridge schoolrooms by comparison with the intellectual inventiveness and intrigue, and the publishing power of the communities of mendicants, monks, and professional clerks in the provinces.” — American Historical Review

“Books Under Suspicion_ offers much for the study of early modern religion and literature . . . [It] will surely be required reading for all scholars of late medieval English literary and intellectual history for at least decades to come, inspiring as it does not so much suspicion as admiration.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

Winner of the 2007 John Ben Snow Prize from the North American Conference on British StudiesWinner of the 2010 Haskins Gold Medal from the Medieval Academy of America