RECIRC’s Work Package 3 analyzes the reception and circulation of early modern women’s writing in manuscript culture by focusing on a specific category: the manuscript miscellany. The manuscript miscellany – typically containing miscellaneous items of poetry and prose – is the specific category of manuscript most likely to include transcriptions, adaptations, translations and excerpts of female-authored works.
To date, Marie-Louise Coolahan, Erin McCarthy and I have consulted over 650 manuscript miscellanies held in the Folger Shakespeare, Huntington, Bodleian and British libraries. We will be writing a co-authored monograph on our findings over the next two years.
A question that I am frequently asked by followers of RECIRC is: how do we go about finding early modern manuscript miscellanies in the archives? Today I thought I would briefly explain our methodology for auditing one archive: the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
The Bodleian Library has a massive collection of early modern manuscripts. I searched for manuscript miscellanies in the Bodleian Library’s collection by reading through the hard copies of their catalogues. These catalogues are available for consultation in the Weston Library (https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/weston) and you can also download some of them online (see links below).
The collections that are rich in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century anglophone material include: Ashmole, Rawlinson and Tanner (catalogues available at http://libguides.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/modern-sc/quarto).
The Summary Catalogues (available at http://libguides.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/c.php?g=422900&p=2890408) are also an essential resource for tracking down early modern material and include the shelfmarks Eng.poet, Eng.misc., Firth, Add., Willis, Malone, Locke, Smith, Don., and Fairfax).
The hard copies of these catalogues often contain handwritten annotations which are not always viewable in the digitized versions.
Post-1975 accessions can be viewed via the unpublished continuation catalogues in the Weston Library and more recent acquisitions can be searched at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/search.html.
The catalogues do not usually describe manuscripts as being ‘miscellanies’, but the following phrases are used instead: ‘miscellaneous poems’; ‘a miscellaneous notebook’; ‘a paper book’; ‘a commonplace book’; ‘a volume of miscellaneous papers’.
The following numerical breakdown (based on my own reading of the catalogues) will give you an idea of the quantity of early modern anglophone miscellanies that the Bodleian hold:
Summary Catalogues (containing Eng.poet, Eng.misc. etc.): 201
Miscellanies that contain copies of female-authored works are a high priority for RECIRC. How do we go about finding miscellanies with female-authored items? The Bodleian’s catalogues sometimes name and describe the works of women – this is often the case for royal women such as Mary, Queen of Scots, Christina of Sweden and Marguerite de Valois:
Occasionally unaristocratic women will also get mentioned:
The Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450-1700, http://www.celm-ms.org.uk/ (which can be searched via repository or author) tells us which miscellanies in the Bodleian are known to contain the works of canonical British female authors such as Aphra Behn, Elizabeth Cary, Katherine Philips and Elizabeth Tudor. Moreover, Margaret Crum’s First-Line Index of English Poetry, 1500-1800 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (1969), the Union First Line Index of English Verse (http://firstlines.folger.edu/) and Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson’s Early Modern Women Poets: An Anthology (2001) are useful for identifying the manuscripts that include the verse of female poets. Additionally, the Perdita Project (https://web.warwick.ac.uk/english/perdita/html/) outlines which manuscripts have female compilers.
Nothing, however, can surpass looking though the original manuscripts themselves which frequently include unattributed female-authored works that have hitherto been hidden from scholars. RECIRC team members can check each item in a miscellany alongside the RECIRC database which currently contains 6,722 female-authored works (with first-line incipits of women’s writing written in English). Moreover, by examining the manuscripts themselves, we are sometimes coming across new female authors and their works that have previously been unknown.
This is back-breaking and eye-straining work, but it is an essential process in uncovering the diversity of ways in which women’s writing was transmitted, copied and read in the early modern period.