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We're lucky enough to receive a fair number of books from Yale University Press and they do a uniformly fine job of presenting the texts they publish, but this may be the most beautiful book they've ever done. Eamon Duffy the prize-winning historian of the English Reformation and author of the great, The Stripping of the Altars : Traditional Religion in England, turns his attention here to the Book of Hours. Some 800 of these books -- which were initially commissioned and hand made for the wealthy, mostly women, but were later mass produced for the rising middle class -- still survive in various libraries and collections. As Mr. Duffy recounts their history and provides a close reading of the notes that owners made in the margins the examples he's discussing are reproduced in numerous exquisite plates in the book. The effort that has gone into the project will gratify anyone who loves books.

As to the actual subject of the book, those familiar with Mr. Duffy's prior works will recognize the core argument he has to make even if few of us will know about the controversy he's wading into. Apparently previous writers have cited modifications made to the Book of Hours--the insertion of other prayers and the like--as evidence of a kind of pro-protestantism within pre-Reformation English Catholicism. They maintain that these edits and additions represent a personalization that is incompatible with acceptance of Church authority. His close reading of the actual books though makes for a convincing case that, rather than individualizing, owners were mostly adding stock prayers that happened not to have been included in the original text and making other such entirely orthodox changes. This combined with the popularity of the books does suggest exactly the opposite of what these other scholars have argued: that Catholicism was thriving right up until Henry's forcible Reformation from above.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Eamon Duffy (2 books reviewed)
Eamon Duffy Links:

    -Eamon Duffy (Wikipedia)
    -BOOK SITE: Marking the Hours (Yale University Press)
    -FACULTY PAGE: Professor Eamon Duffy (Professor of the History of Christianity, and Fellow and Director of Studies, Magdalene College)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: In the field of Reformation fiction, two masterpieces stand out (Eamon Duffy, May 22, 2020, Catholic Herald)
    -ESSAY: A Very Personal Possession (Eamon Duffy, November 2006, History Today)
    -ARCHIVES: Eamon Duffy (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Lancelot Andrewes: Selected Sermons and Lectures by Lancelot Andrewes ed. Peter McCullough (Eamon Duffy, London Review of Books)
    -PROFILE: Acclaimed Cambridge professor brings England to Athens (Jason Robinaugh, Oct. 20, 2006, Speakeasy)
    -REVIEW: of Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers by Eamon Duffy (Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Marking the Hours (Christopher Howse, The Tablet)
    -REVIEW: of Marking the Hours (Helen Castor, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Marking the Hours (Catholic Herald)
    -REVIEW: of Marking the Hours (Amy Wellborn)
    -REVIEW: of Marking the Hours (Ruth Scurr, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Marking the Hours (Donna Freitas, Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Marking the Hours (First Post)

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