Douglas A. Brooks, ed. Printing and Parenting in Early Modern England. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. xviii+436pp. ISBN 0 7546 0425 X.

Alison Searle
Queen Mary, University of London

Searle, Alison. "Review of Douglas A. Brooks, ed. Printing and Parenting in Early Modern England." Early Modern Literary Studies 12.2 (September, 2006) 8.1-5<URL:>.

  1. This collection of essays explores the nexus of discourses converging around parenting and the printing press in early modern England. Amongst various critical paradigms it deploys gender studies and the history of the book, examining the aspects of literary production, print technology and processes of conception and birth, which are thrown into sharp relief by the juxtaposition of printing and parenting. The significant conceptual overlap between these two discursive fields is used to organise the collection as a whole. The first part, entitled 'Reproductive Rhetorics', offers an overview of the ways in which 'imprinting devices - seal, stamp, coin, and woodblock - have been used to represent the workings of the mind and body' (52). Margreta de Grazia suggests that our scepticism about the fixity of print may mesh with changes in 'our assumptions about knowledge and sexuality' (53). Ann Thompson and John O. Thompson provide a theoretical analysis of the use of metaphor and imagery before focusing more specifically on the way these are applied to books and printing. The two essays introduce an historical perspective and interrogation of metaphor that informs the analysis of human and cultural artefacts in the following chapters.

  2. Part II 'Ink and Kin' raises the paradox of male Renaissance poets who describe their use of creative imagination through references to the female body. Even those seen 'as the most aggressively 'masculine'', Ben Jonson or John Milton, utilise maternal imagery (89). This complicates the traditional feminist account of creativity most influentially stated in Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic. The 'problems of ambiguous figuration', it is speculated, still 'haunt us today' (106). Ben Jonson is seen as the Renaissance poet par excellence through which to explore the issues of ink and kin. Both his careful attempts to control the layout of his printed works, Sejanus and Volpone, and the moving poem written upon the death of his son, Benjamin, demonstrate his attempt to 'master fate' through 'the act of writing'; an 'ideology of authorship' which presented barriers to women, but was 'no unmixed blessing for men' either (141-2).

  3. The 'promiscuity' of the new printing press allowed for 'Issues of the Book Trade' that were a source of excitement and anxiety to early modern English culture. James A. Knapp examines sixteenth-century woodcut illustrations, arguing that they 'complicate the visual space' of pages in this period and challenge attempts to approach illustrations through a modernist aesthetic that construes such woodcuts as 'popular' and 'crude'. This is symptomatic of a tendency to separate Renaissance texts 'from the living world in which they originally generated meaning' (166). Other progeny were abuse pamphlets, such as the Nashe-Harvey controversy; the paratexts or 'front matter' that played such a critical role in shaping the response of readers to a book's content; cheap broadsides dealing with monstrous births; and the use of red ink in books to generate 'meaning as blood on the early modern page as well as on the stage', a kind of 'directed reading' (237).

  4. Many contributors draw a direct connection between the authority of the father, the pen, and the printing press. Howard Marchitello, for example, argues that James I's assertion of his royal prerogative above parliament, and his defence of this in print, very naturally coincide in the figure of his son: 'James enacts the role of both pater and pater patriae' (303). However, Stephen Orgel poses a vigorous challenge to this network of assumptions in his analysis of Lady Anne Clifford's marginalia on A Mirror for Magistrates. Defending her rights as her father's heir 'entirely within the system' of English courts, emphasising the importance of the reader in producing a correct text, and referring to Ruth Raworth, a printer in her own right, Orgel concludes that Clifford cannot be simply dismissed 'as an exception that proves the universal rule of patriarchy' (288).

  5. The complexity of the relationship between printing and parenting and its refusal to fit into a coherent linear historical narrative is further demonstrated by the final section, 'Textual Legacies'. The case of Alice Walker illustrates that women are still elided from patrilineal accounts of the development of academic subjects. Similarly, the dilemmas posed for contemporary understandings of parenthood by new reproductive technologies, which have led American courts to invoke the notion of intellectual property as an analogy to human conception, show that the relationship between procreation and authorship remains a resonant issue.

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© 2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).