Femke Molekamp

'Howe to take profite in reading of the holie Scripture'

'Howe to take profite in reading of the holie Scripture': interactions between Geneva Bibles and early modern readers

This paper uses an examination of the material features of the Geneva Bibles in the extensive British Library and Bible Society collections to reconstruct details of the early modern readership of these books and of how this bible version aimed to order it. A survey of the paratextual material of the Geneva Bible, differing across editions, along with owner’s annotations and bindings, begins to reveal a picture of the relationship between these books and their owners. It yields information as to how the act of reading is mediated by the composite of Geneva Bible texts, of what kind of readership this version of the bible was trying to fashion and of how readers responded to their Geneva Bibles.

As the age of printed English Bibles establishes itself, the individual reader inevitably discovers agency in reading and applying ‘reason’ to the scriptures. The proliferation of anxieties springing up as a result of this is evident across the religious, political and social orders of the country. At its centre can be felt the crucial question of what hermeneutics will be exercised by a disorderly range of readers: men and women, noble and common, educated and illiterate (aural) readers, orthodox and sectarian, all potentially engaged in both oral, communal, and silent, private reading of the scriptures. The range of readers, reading styles and uses readers had for their Geneva Bibles is discussed using examples of marks left by readers in the British Library and Bible Society collections.

Making Books, Shaping Readers

School of English, O' Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland.