A book by Kate Narveson,
Associate Professor of English,
Bible Readers and Lay Writers in Early Modern England: Gender and Religious Self-Definition in an Emergent Writing Culture, was published by Ashgate Publishing in September, 2012. Reviews of the book praise its significant and astute scholarly work as well as Naveson's lively, readable style.
Her book studies how lay immersion in the Bible gave rise to a non-professional writing culture, one of the first instances of ordinary people taking up the pen as part of their daily lives. Kate examines the development of the culture, looking at the close connection between reading and writing practices, the influence of gender, and the habit of applying Scripture to personal experience. She also explores the tensions arising between lay and clergy as layfolk embraced not just the chance to read Scripture but the opportunity to create a written record of their ideas and experiences, acquiring a new control over their spiritual self-definition and a new mode of gaining status in domestic and communal circles.
Based on a study of print and manuscript sources from 1580 to 1660, this book begins by analyzing how lay people were taught to read Scripture both through explicit clerical instruction in techniques such as note-taking and collation, and through indirect means such as exposure to sermons, and then how they adapted those techniques to create their own devotional writing. The first part of the book concludes with case studies of three ordinary lay people, Anne Venn, Nehemiah Wallington, and Richard Willis.
The second half of the study turns to the question of how gender registers in lay scripturalist writing, offering extended attention to the little-studied meditations of Grace, Lady Mildmay. Narveson concludes by arguing that by mid-century, despite clerical anxiety, writing was a central feature of lay engagement with Scripture.
Kate also served as a respondent for a session on seventeenth-century poet John Donne and the act of reading at the 27th International John Donne Society Conference, held in Leiden, the Netherlands, in June 2012.
Her article, "'Their practice bringeth little profit': Clerical Anxieties about Lay Scripture Reading in Early Modern England," has just appeared in Private and Domestic Devotion in Early Modern Britain, ed. Jessica Martin and Alec Ryrie (Ashgate Publishing, 2012).