by Edwina Moore
I’m delighted to be doing a guest post (my first!). I’m Edwina Moore. I have a PhD in medieval history, which came in pretty handy when I decided to write a romance set in fourteenth-century France. A Knight’s Ransom isn’t published yet, but a couple of agents asked to see the full manuscript, and now I wait…so much waiting. But never fear, gentle readers, I am not sitting idle. A Knight’s Redemption is in the works.
Enough about me. Let’s talk about books. Now, asking a writer to talk about books is a dangerous thing. I could talk about books until the proverbial cows have gone back out again. I thought about my favorite books. Yes, plural, because who has just one favorite? I thought about the book that introduced me to romance (Seduction, by Amanda Quick) and the one that led me to medieval history (The Lord of the Rings), but instead I decided to write about the book in the Middle Ages.
The book format we know—covers, pages, chapters, margins, headings, the use of different colors and fonts to set off information (think a textbook), page numbers, not to mention punctuation and spaces between words, all developed over the Late Antique and medieval periods. In terms of the physical object, books made reading easier—imagine reading Game of Thrones on a scroll and needing to re-read something because you can’t remember who that character is in chapter four. Books are also easier to store than scrolls, and parchment is less vulnerable to damp than papyrus. Rubrication, things like chapter headings and page numbers, made finding information more efficient. Books could also be any size, small enough to fit in your palm—Leona, the heroine of A Knight’s Ransom, has such a book—or so large that it would take a couple of people to hold them.
A lot of work went into producing a medieval book. This included preparing the parchment, making the inks, ruling the parchment—if you look closely at some medieval books, you can still see the pinpricks in the margins and the faint lines crossing the parchment—writing or more likely copying the text BY HAND (think about Game of Thrones or a book by Stephanie Laurens—Lord of the Privateers is 500 pages; imagine copying that by hand), adding illuminations or illustrations, assembling the pages into quires, adding the covers…it’s quite a process.
It’s no surprise, then, that books were status symbols. The more expensive the materials, the more elaborate the illuminations, the more ornate the covers, the more wealth and status the owner had. Most books were simple and, relatively, inexpensive: chapbooks, simple Books of Hours, and the like. Only wealthy patrons could afford something like the Trés Riches Heures du duc de Berry, and books were often handed down in wills as valuable moveable property.
Medieval books are pretty amazing, and I love to talk about them whenever I get a chance. My thanks to Beppie et al for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to do it.