‘She cared not a turd’, exploring manuscripts at the BL

As a Dyslexic student, before I started my textual studies class, deciphering manuscripts was something that made me nervous. As useful as online reading tools are, being able to see them as tangible objects makes them so much more accessible and less daunting. Visiting the British Library and listening to Lawrence Warner and A.S.G Edwards talk about them, and their scholarly history, felt like each book was a mini universe waiting to be explored. Learning to slowly recognize, what to me, was a bunch of squiggles as real words, along with the rest of my class, was not only reassuring, but also a lot of fun.

Canterbury Tales British Library
Decorated initial ‘W’ (han) at the beginning of the Canterbury Tales, England,c. 1410. Harley MS 7734, f. 1r, from the British Library manuscripts blog.

Sarah J Biggs also showed us how beyond their medieval pasts, manuscripts also become woven into different historical moments. My favorite manuscript we saw was the Harley MS 7734. Sarah showed us some of the annotations Edward Waterhouse scrawled inside, potentially revealing a lover’s quarrel and the charming note ‘she cared not a turd’. For me, in my historical present, being able to see these manuscripts at the BL and their wider histories forged a closer connection to them in my studies.

Ellen, MA Medieval English 2015-2016

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