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date: 07 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article focuses on one field to which Caxton scholarship belongs: book history. It has been argued elsewhere that new formalism's dispute with literary historicism is akin to a debate within book history about the practice of bibliography — which refers to the study of the forms of books and the variable state of the texts that they contain. The ‘new formalist’ charge is, in part, that New Historicist approaches have ceased to tell us very much about literary texts, or about the information that literary analysis can yield that is missed by other kinds of enquiry. Likewise, when certain bibliographers — Dane and David Vander Meulen, for instance — object to book historical studies that are about the symbolic or social meanings of books, it is largely on the grounds these studies do not treat books as complex artefacts that require close formal analysis that cannot always be fitted into a simple historicist (or for that matter literary) narrative. This is the point of the remainder of the discussion. Recent scholarship argues that Caxton's work is important as a renovation of, reaction to, and simultaneously bringing into being of a new, Tudor, print culture: Caxton's books themselves manifest an otherness, an inventiveness that may trouble paradigmatic explanations of this culture.

Keywords: William Caxton, new formalism, literary historicism, book history, Tudor print culture

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