Readers and Reading in the Book: the Imaginary and the Material

An event on how the practices and experiences of reading have been represented in literary texts over the centuries.

Co-organised by the Leeds Centre for Dante Studies, CompLab and the Institute for Medieval Studies, and funded by the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, Italian@leeds and CompLab, this event is designed to bring together researchers from different scholarly backgrounds around the topic of readers and reading, with a specific focus on how, over the centuries, practices and experiences of reading have been represented in literary texts and embedded in the material features of manuscripts and printed books.

While significant research work has been carried out on reading and readers from the point of view of social history, comparatively less attention has been given to the connections between, on the one hand, textual and visual representations of reading and, on the other, the experiences of reading suggested by the format and design of books. This workshop aims to explore new directions and possibilities for research in this field from an interdisciplinary and multilingual perspective, and by joining the strengths of different areas of expertise and methods, from the history of the book to literary theory.


14:00 Welcome and introduction - Federica Pich (Leeds Centre for Dante Studies, LCS)

14:15 - 16:00

‘Liber ex Machina. Readers and Magic Books in the Inamoramento de Orlando’ - Giovanna Rizzarelli

‘Designing the Decameron: Reading the Page in Renaissance Editions’ - Rhiannon Daniels

‘Constructing Boccaccio’s English Readers in the Early Modern Period’ - Guyda Armstrong

16:00 Coffee break

16:20 - 17:30   

‘From Print to Pixels: The Many Futures of Reading’ - Karin Littau

Abstracts and profiles of speakers

Giovanna Rizzarelli - ‘Liber ex Machina. Readers and Magic Books in the Inamoramento de Orlando

In Boiardo’s Inamoramento de Orlando the practice of reading aloud and a strong mimesis of orality mark the representation of the act of reading, allowing a glimpse at the traces of these experiences in literary imagination. However, readers and books populate the Inamoramento in a much more conspicuous way than one would suspect. In this talk I shall examine some of the cantos in which reading is not only represented, but also becomes an indispensable tool for the diegetic machine. As I shall show, scenes of reading and magic books, which play an essential role in several episodes of the poem, become a genuine ‘deus ex machina’ for the development of the narrative.

Giovanna Rizzarelli is Assistant professor in Italian at the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa. From 2008 to 2012 she has been the Principal Investigator of the project Anton Francesco Doni – Multimedia Archive of Texts and Sources funded by an ERC Starting Grant. Her research mainly focuses on Italian literature of the 16th and 17th century, and she is author of several essays on Boiardo, Ariosto, Bembo, Doni, Betussi and Marino. Her publications include «Se le parole si potessero scorgere». I Mondi di Doni tra Italia e Francia (2007) and the critical edition of Doni’s Marmi (with Carlo Alberto Girotto, 2017). She is the guest editor of the forthcoming special issue of Italian Studies on the reception of Pulci’s Morgante and Boiardo’s Inamoramento de Orlando.

Rhiannon Daniels - ‘Designing the Decameron: Reading the Page in Renaissance Editions’

Given the paucity of information about readership in the early modern period, this paper considers the material evidence of page design in order to consider how we might reconstruct possible journeys through the text. How did the first editors of the printed Decameron choose to frame the text and how might this have determined directions of reading? How were different sections of text marked up for the reader’s attention and, in turn, what might this suggest about early modern literary interpretation?

Rhiannon Daniels is Senior Lecturer in Italian at the University of Bristol and the founder and co-director of the Centre for Material Texts at Bristol. She is currently working on a monograph on The Renaissance ‘Decameron’: A Social and Material History of the Printed Text, 1470-1600. She is author of Boccaccio and the Book: Production and Reading in Italy 1340-1520 (Legenda, 2009) and co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to Boccaccio with Guyda Armstrong and Steve Milner (2015).

Guyda Armstrong - ‘Constructing Boccaccio’s English Readers in the Early Modern Period’

Boccaccio was one of the most popular Italian authors in English translation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with translations being published of the Thirteen Questions sequence of the Filocolo, the Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta, the Ninfale fiesolano, and the Decameron (both as individual novellas and the text as a whole). This paper will consider some of the directives to these English readers as they are constructed in the many editorial paratexts of these translations, and will reflect on how these intersect with Boccaccio’s own authorial directives, and what we know of their historic production and readership contexts.

Guyda Armstrong is Senior Lecturer in Italian and Faculty Academic Lead for Digital Humanities at the University of Manchester. Her research is primarily focused on materiality and translation, and she has published extensively on early Italian literature and its translation and transmission across languages, cultures, and media from the medieval period to the present day. Her wider research interests include visual design, digital humanities, and gender. She is the author of The English Boccaccio: A History in Books (UTP, 2013, paperback edition 2015), and Co-Investigator with Simon Gilson and Federica Pich on the AHRC-funded project Petrarch Commentaries and Exegesis in Renaissance Italy, c. 1350-1650. She is currently completing an edition of the first English translation of Boccaccio’s Decameron for the MHRA Tudor and Stuart translation series.

Karin Littau - ‘From Print to Pixels: The Many Futures of Reading’

Focusing on different epochs from the 1870s to the present, this paper examines a variety of book forms: the flip-book, phonographic book, machined book, digital book, exhibited book. How, this paper asks, does the materiality of books affect not only how the written word is stored and transmitted, but also how it is read – aloud or silently; by skimming or scanning, listening or clicking; alone, in public, or in a community? And how have critics, poets, artists, and inventors reflected on books and reading; confronted the challenges and opportunities by new media; and imagined alternative book forms and futures of reading?

Karin Littau is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Essex. Her publications in book studies have sought to bridge the gap between the history of reading and literary theory and to open up book history to broader concerns of media history.