Author of first English novel kept it hidden for ten years – here’s why



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Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, detailing the grim fate of Protestant clerics Latimer and Ridley, is one clue as to why Baldwin hesitated before publishing his irreverent book.
Wikimedia Commons

Rachel Stenner, University of Sheffield and Frances Babbage, University of Sheffield

A dense work of early English prose, strewn throughout with serious and teasing marginalia from its author, might not be the most likely candidate for stage adaptation – but this project has just been undertaken by a team of artists and academics in Sheffield. William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat, written in 1553, will be performed in September as part of the university’s 2018 Festival of the Mind.

As a literary form, the novel is usually thought to have developed in the 18th century with the mighty classics Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. But researchers believe we should be looking back to the relatively neglected prose fictions of the Tudor era to find the earliest English examples. Beware the Cat, an ecclesiastical satire about talking cats, is a prime candidate and is now thought to be the earliest example of the novel form in the English language.

Baldwin is barely known outside the circles of Renaissance literature, but he was highly celebrated and widely read in Tudor England. In the mid-16th century, he was earning an inky-fingered living as a printer’s assistant in and around the central London bookmaking and bookselling area of St Paul’s Cathedral. As well as writing fiction, he produced A Mirror for Magistrates, the co-written collection of gruesome historical poetry that was highly influential on Shakespeare’s history plays. He also compiled a bestselling handbook of philosophy, and translated the controversial Song of Songs, the sexy book of the Bible.

Beware the Cat tells the tale of a talkative priest, Gregory Streamer, who determines to understand the language of cats after he is kept awake by a feline rabble on the rooftops. Turning for guidance to Albertus Magnus, a medieval alchemist and natural scientist roundly mocked in the Renaissance for his quackery, Streamer finds the spell he needs. Then, using various stomach-churning ingredients, including hedgehog’s fat and cat excrement, he cooks up the right potion.

And it turns out that cats don’t merely talk – they have a social hierarchy, a judicial system and carefully regulated laws governing sexual relations. With his witty beast fable, Baldwin is analysing an ancient question, and one in which the philosophical field of posthumanism still shows a keen interest: do birds and beasts have reason?

A woodcut from William Griffith’s 1570 edition of William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat.
Author provided

Turbulent times

But rights and wrongs of a different order coloured Baldwin’s book release. He self-censored for several years before making the work public. Beware the Cat was written in 1553, months before the untimely death of the young Protestant king, Edward VI. Next on the throne (if you disregard the turbulent nine-day reign of Lady Jane Grey) was the first Tudor queen, Mary I. Her Catholicism was fervent and these were terrifying days. By the mid-1550s, Mary was burning Protestant martyrs. One of her less alarming, but still consequential, decisions was to reverse the freedoms accorded the press under her brother Edward.

At the height of his power during the 1540s, the Lord Protector during the young Edward’s reign, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, had relied on particular printers to spread the regime’s reformist message. Men such as John Day (printer of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) and Edward Whitchurch – Baldwin’s employer – printed and circulated anti-Catholic polemic on behalf of the state. Not content to persecute these men by denying them the pardon she accorded other Protestant printers, Mary I banned the discussion of religion in print unless it was specifically authorised by her officials.

Radical press

As a print trade insider, Baldwin was intimately connected with the close community of this radical Protestant printing milieu – and Beware the Cat is deliberately set at John Day’s printing shop. Having written a book that parodies the Mass, depicts priests in some very undignified positions and points the finger at Catholic idolatry, Baldwin thought better of releasing it in the oppressive religious climate of Mary’s reign. But by 1561, Elizabeth I was on the throne and constraints on the press were less severe – despite the infamous case of John Stubbs, the writer who in 1579 lost his hand for criticising her marriage plans.

A sermon being preached at St Paul’s Cross, 1614.
John Gipkyn

Baldwin, now in his 30s, had become a church deacon. He was still active as a writer and public figure, working on his second edition of A Mirror for Magistrates and preaching at Paul’s Cross in London, a venue that could attract a 6,000-strong congregation.

Once it was released, Beware the Cat went through several editions. It was not recognised for the comic gem that it is until scholars such as Evelyn Feasey started studying Baldwin in the early 20th century and the novel was later championed by American scholars William A. Ringler and Michael Flachmann.

Now, it has been adapted for performance for the first time and is being presented as part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind. This stage version of Beware the Cat has been created by the authors with Terry O’Connor (member of renowned performance ensemble Forced Entertainment) and the artist Penny McCarthy.

Baldwin’s techniques of embedded storytelling, argument and satirical marginalia are all features that have been incorporated into this interpretation of the text. The production also includes an array of original drawings (which the cast of four display by using an onstage camera connected to a projector), but none of the cast pretends to be a cat. Instead, it is left to the audience to imagine the world Baldwin’s novel describes, in which cats can talk and – even if just for one night – humans can understand them.The Conversation

Rachel Stenner, Teaching Associate in Renaissance Literature, University of Sheffield and Frances Babbage, Professor of English Literature, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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More on the IKEA Reading Rooms in London


The link below is to another article reporting on the IKEA reading rooms in London associated with the Man Booker Award.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/07/ikea-wembley-uk-and-man-booker-prize-create-reading-rooms/

IKEA ‘Reading Rooms’


The link below is to an article reporting on ‘reading rooms’ being set up by IKEA in London to celebrate the announcement of the Nam Booker Prize longlist.

For more visit:
https://www.thebookseller.com/news/ikea-creates-reading-rooms-celebrate-man-booker-longlist-833651

How Winnie the Pooh teaches us the importance of play


Eleanor Byrne, Manchester Metropolitan University

He is famous for his love of honey, and being a bear of “little brain”. So Winnie the Pooh might be a little surprised to find himself the subject of a major new museum exhibition.

Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic will explore the creative partnership of writer A.A. Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard. Together they produced the much-loved whimsical stories featured in Winnie the Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928).

The decision by the Victoria and Albert museum in London to hold the exhibition proves that the bear and his friends have become establishment figures. As children’s literature expert Peter Hunt notes, they are “part of British culture, passing from generation to generation”.

One element of the incredible success of the Pooh books is that they reflect ideas about childhood that emerged in what is widely known as the “golden age” of children’s literature, spanning from the mid-19th century to World War I.

The golden age view of a child’s world was one that was close to nature – the child an innocent before the imposed horrors of school and education, and a figure of loss and nostalgia for the adult. This was very much the landscape of Winnie’s home in Hundred Acre Wood.

As cultural theorist Stefan Herbrechter said: “Children are supposed to live in a world of their own, which is clearly defined and marked out as the space and time for play and in which toys are the main objects and controlling devices of socialisation.”

However, Milne’s books are more poignant and have a slightly different flavour, than other examples, such as Wind in the Willows (of which Milne was a great fan, writing a stage adaptation). They came after World War I, when many illusions about innocence, the upper class, Englishness and patriotism had reached breaking point.

They contain traces of the experiences in the trenches that marked both Milne and Shepard, whose illustrations of carnage at the Somme and Paschendale were the subject of a separate recent exhibition.

The pastoral paradise of Hundred Acre Wood was one that Milne, who wrote passionately in favour of pacifism, conjured from his own childhood memories – back to a time before the terrifying intrusion and destruction of the war.

As such, Milne’s invented world is also saturated with loss, poignantly embodied in the depressed donkey character of Eyore, who sees no reasons to be cheerful. It is also haunted by the threat of leaving the safe space of the wood for places over the horizon that can’t yet be seen. When Christopher Robin and Pooh organise an “expotition” to the North Pole, they find a large pole in the woods and label it accordingly.

Toys, argues Herbrechter, are intimately concerned with storytelling. They are “like little story machines, narrative catalysers, objects that help make sense of the world”.

This idea is addressed with humour and complexity in Milne’s writing, and beautifully rendered in Shepard’s illustrations that always emphasise the “toyness” of the animals. It explains much about why these books have remained so loved.

Pooh the satirist

Milne shows his real life son Christopher (whom Christopher Robin was named after) how playing with his toys is a kind of writing, just as the playwright makes scenes for his characters. Before he wrote the Pooh stories, Milne worked as a playwright and as a satirist at Punch magazine.

We can detect the specific pleasures of introducing the craft of storytelling to his son from a man who made a living from writing. Milne’s stories gently teach the young credulous reader, who reads literally, that they may be other more rewarding ways of interpreting the world, and what the difference is between what people say and what they mean.

Milne offers the pleasures of word play. The narrator explains that “Winnie the Pooh lived in the forest all by himself under the name of Sanders”, which meant “he had the name over the door in gold letters and lived under it”.

The non-literal reader is invited to find this funny. Similarly, if Piglet says anything “carelessly” he is probably concealing a very important wish. He will say he isn’t afraid when he wants to appear brave.

Although the Pooh books were famously dismissed by fellow satirist Dorothy Parker, who wrote a dismayed and withering review of Winnie-the-Pooh, the success of Milne’s works suggests that he managed to translate his love of making stories into a form that beguiled the child reader. Stories which showed how they too might make an imaginative life for themselves in the world of storytelling and understand how to master words and meanings.

In one notable scene Pooh finds himself stuck on the doorway to Rabbit’s house, and must wait for a week until he is thin enough to be pulled free. Christopher Robin sits down with him and reads him a “sustaining book”, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness.

The ConversationThe comforting presence and companionship of a good book is something all readers of Pooh take away with them. And it is perhaps this which explains the enduring popularity of these stories, which taught us how to read and write in our own way.

Eleanor Byrne, Senior Lecturer in English, Manchester Metropolitan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Millennial bashing in medieval times


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In Sir Thomas Malory’s ‘Le Morte d’Arthur,’ a character complains that young people are too sexually promiscuous.
The British Library

Eric Weiskott, Boston College

As a millennial and a teacher of millennials, I’m growing weary of think pieces blaming my generation for messing everything up.

The list of ideas, things and industries that millennials have ruined or are presently ruining is very long: cereal, department stores, the dinner date, gambling, gender equality, golf, lunch, marriage, movies, napkins, soap, the suit and weddings. In true millennial fashion, compiling lists like this has already become a meme.

A common thread in these hit pieces is the idea that millennials are lazy, shallow and disruptive. When I think of my friends, many of whom were born in the 1980s, and my undergraduate students, most of whom were born in the 1990s, I see something different. The millennials I know are driven and politically engaged. We came of age after the Iraq War, the Great Recession and the bank bailout – three bipartisan political disasters. These events were formative, to an extent that those who remember the Vietnam War might not realize.

The idea that young people are ruining society is nothing new. I teach medieval English literature, which gives ample opportunity to observe how far back the urge to blame younger generations goes.

The most famous medieval English author, Geoffrey Chaucer, lived and worked in London in the 1380s. His poetry could be deeply critical of the changing times. In the dream vision poem “The House of Fame,” he depicts a massive failure to communicate, a kind of 14th-century Twitter in which truths and falsehoods circulate indiscriminately in a whirling wicker house. The house is – among other things – a representation of medieval London, which was growing in size and political complexity at a then-astounding rate.

Geoffrey Chaucer.
Wikimedia Commons

In a different poem, “Troilus and Criseyde,” Chaucer worries that future generations will “miscopy” and “mismeter” his poetry because of language change. Millennials might be bankrupting the napkin industry, but Chaucer was concerned that younger readers would ruin language itself.

Winner and Waster,” an English alliterative poem probably composed in the 1350s, expresses similar anxieties. The poet complains that beardless young minstrels who never “put three words together” get praised. No one appreciates old-fashioned storytelling any more. Gone are the days when “there were lords in the land who in their hearts loved / To hear poets of mirth who could invent stories.”

William Langland, the elusive author of “Piers Plowman,” also believed that younger poets weren’t up to snuff. “Piers Plowman” is a psychedelic religious and political poem of the 1370s. At one point, Langland has a personification named Free Will describe the sorry state of contemporary education. Nowadays, says Free Will, the study of grammar confuses children, and there is no one left “who can make fine metered poetry” or “readily interpret what poets made.” Masters of divinity who should know the seven liberal arts inside and out “fail in philosophy,” and Free Will worries that hasty priests will “overleap” the text of the mass.

On a larger scale, people in 14th-century England began worrying that a new bureaucratic class was destroying the idea of truth itself. In his book “A Crisis of Truth,” literary scholar Richard Firth Green argues that the centralization of the English government changed truth from a person-to-person transaction to an objective reality located in documents.

Today we might see this shift as a natural evolution. But literary and legal records from the time reveal the loss of social cohesion felt by everyday people. They could no longer rely on verbal promises. These had to be checked against authoritative written documents. (Chaucer himself was part of the new bureaucracy in his roles as clerk of the king’s works and forester of North Petherton.)

In medieval England, young people were also ruining sex. Late in the 15th century, Thomas Malory compiled the “Morte d’Arthur,” an amalgam of stories about King Arthur and the Round Table. In one tale, Malory complains that young lovers are too quick to jump into bed.

“But the old love was not so,” he writes wistfully.

If these late medieval anxieties seem ridiculous now, it’s only because so much human accomplishment (we flatter ourselves) lies between us and them. Can you imagine the author of “Winner and Waster” wagging a finger at Chaucer, who was born into the next generation? The Middle Ages are misremembered as a dark age of torture and religious fanaticism. But for Chaucer, Langland and their contemporaries, it was the modern future that represented catastrophe.

These 14th- and 15th-century texts hold a lesson for the 21st century. Anxieties about “kids these days” are misguided, not because nothing changes, but because historical change cannot be predicted. Chaucer envisioned a linear decay of language and poetry stretching into the future, and Malory yearned to restore a (make-believe) past of courtly love.

But that’s not how history works. The status quo, for better or worse, is a moving target. What’s unthinkable to one era becomes so ubiquitous it’s invisible in the next.

Millennial bashers are responding to real tectonic shifts in culture. But their response is just a symptom of the changes they claim to diagnose. As millennials achieve more representation in the workforce, in politics and in media, the world will change in ways we can’t anticipate.

The ConversationBy then, there will be new problems and a new generation to take the blame for them.

Eric Weiskott, Assistant Professor of English, Boston College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: GPs Prescribe Books


The link below is to an article that examines how GPs in England will prescribe self-help books to some patients.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/31/gps-prescribe-self-help-books

‘The Fatal Shore,’ by Robert Hughes


This is not the usual book review I guess, as I haven’t yet read the entire book. I have however started to read this book, which I think is now regarded as a must read on early Australian history. I have read the first 5 chapters or the first 157 pages – it is a 688 page work.

‘The Fatal Shore’ is by Robert Hughes and was first published in Great Britain by Collins Harvill in 1987. My edition is the paperback edition of 1996, published by The Harvill Press in London.

‘The Fatal Shore’ is the story of convict settlement in Australia, from the early history of transportation from England to Australia, including the steps that led to it. It describes in straight forward, matter of fact way, the plight of English convicts being sent to Botany Bay in all of its brutal reality. The reality of the picture painted by Robert Hughes removes any lingering thoughts of pioneering adventure with which the convicts may have been involved in. It is a harsh world, where the punishment dished out far exceeded the crimes involved in many, many cases.

There are individual accounts of convicts and their crimes, with detailed descriptions of the horrors they endured on a voyage to New South Wales or one of the other colonies as they were established around Australia.

It is not just a story of the convicts, it is a story of invasion, as Aboriginal Australia gave way before the steady push of colonial endeavour by the English invaders. It is the story of the red coats, of the sailors, of the governors, etc. In short, it is a history of the convict era in Australia and all that it brought with it.

I am enjoying this account of early Australian history and would recommend it to anyone who has not yet read it – especially those living in Australia. It seems to me to be a more honest account of Australia’s early history than that which we may hear about in school – if we hear much about it at all. A must read.

The History of the English Baptists – Update


from the Reformation to the Beginning of the Reign of King George I, by Thomas Crosby

Preface_Image001 As noted in a previous post, I have been reading ‘The History of the English Baptists from the Reformation to the Beginning of the Reign of King George I,’ by Thomas Crosby. I have also been adding this work to my website (a link to this book appears at the end of this post).

I have now completed reading and adding the preface, table of contents and part of the first chapter.

The preface covers the period from the early church through to the first Baptists in England, tracing the origins of the Baptists and disproving their rise to that of the Anabaptists at Munster and the disaster that occurred in that city as a result of the Anabaptist rebellion.

Though a lengthy preface, it briefly touches on such as the Albigenses, the Waldenses, Wickcliff, Donatists, etc. Crosby goes back through history, from the reformation to the first century finding evidence of Baptistic beliefs and practices. It is a very interesting study, even though it is brief. Another interesting aspect of this study is the evidence for early Baptistic existence, even in the writings of Paedobaptist authors and the evidence against the early practice of infant-baptism in the early church.

To read the preface and further, please follow the link below:

http://particularbaptist.com/library/Crossby-Thomas_Vol1_HistoryEnglishBaptists_contents.html

The History of the English Baptists


 

from the Reformation to the Beginning of the Reign of King George I, by Thomas Crosby.

I have just started to read the above titled book – well, at least the first volume anyway. This title is made up of four volumes, all of which are over 500 pages in length. I have also started to add the work to my web site at:

 http://particularbaptist.com 

The original work (Volume 1) was first published in 1738 and includes some old English, which in the version I am placing on my web site, I have tried to update without changing the overall sense and flow of the text.

It is generally understood that Crosby deals with a mix of both the Particular Baptists and General Baptists, or if you prefer, the Calvinistic Baptists and the Arminian Baptists.

To follow my progress and to read the book, visit:

http://particularbaptist.com/library/Crossby-Thomas_Vol1_HistoryEnglishBaptists_contents.html