Books Under Suspicion: Censorship and Tolerance of Revelatory Writing in Late Medieval England

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University of Notre Dame Press, 2006 - Literary Criticism - 562 pages

"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 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 "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

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.

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About the author (2006)

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 Voices in Dialogue: Reading Women in the Middle Ages (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), co-edited with Linda Olson.

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