The Gilded Page: The Secret Lives of Medieval Manuscripts

Blackstone Audio May 2022. 9:15 hrs. ISBN 9798200897186. $31.95. HIST
Medievalist Wellesley’s passion for her subject shines through in the text as well as her performance of this marvelous history of medieval illuminated manuscripts. The UK title, Hidden Hands: The Lives of Manuscripts and their Makers, perhaps better describes the book’s focus: the often-anonymous people who financed, created, used, preserved, rescued, and, sadly, sometimes destroyed these priceless artifacts. Challenging popular notions that manuscripts were exclusively created by monks and only discussed religious matters, Wellesley brings to life often forgotten authors, scribes, artists, and benefactors—many of whom were women, people of color, and laypeople of ordinary means. Describing in rich but jargon-free detail the manuscript life cycle from the arduous (and smelly) process of creating animal skin parchment to the addition of marginalia (annotations added by book owners—including Henry VIII), Wellesley reveals the unique stories and astonishing physical and intellectual labor behind each manuscript. Also captivating are accounts of serendipitous discoveries of several manuscripts as well as the accidental or purposeful destruction of others.
VERDICT Wellesley’s elegant voice and careful pacing allow listeners to absorb the many details, and warm delivery of the “human stories” that “smudge” the manuscripts make this a delightful listening experience for history buffs and book lovers.
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