The Making of Thomas Hoccleve's 'Series'
By David Watt
This new book on the work of Thomas Hoccleve (c.1368–1426) combines close textual reading with manuscript studies in order to explore the relationship between two significant yet under-studied aspects of Hoccleve’s writing: the ‘Series’ (1419-21) and the four surviving manuscripts Hoccleve wrote in his own hand during the final years of his life (1422-26).
Drawing extensively on evidence from these two sources, the author argues that the ‘Series’ should be understood as a coherent whole; contending that it invites readers to reconsider the relationship between literary and material form.
The ‘Series’ is a compilation of texts that exemplify several different literary forms: complaint, dialogue, tale and moralization, and treatise. These texts can be understood as parts of a coherent literary whole only if the reader imagines them as part of a coherent material whole (a book constituted in a physical sense). Yet no manuscript of the whole ‘Series’ survives independently. Paradoxically, then, readers can imagine the ‘Series’ as a coherent material whole only if they accept the narrative of its compilation as a coherent literary whole (a book made in a literary sense). In this way, the coherence of the ‘Series’ as a unit of analysis depends on both bibliographic and literary principles.
David Watt is Assistant Professor of English in the Department of English, Film, and Theatre at the University of Manitoba. He has published articles on Hoccleve and book history and has contributed to the Broadview Anthology of British Literature.