Problematising the Preface: Empowering the Reader in Thomas Berthelet's Print Output

  • Katherine Lowe

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis analyses the discourses that come before the main text in works produced during the early years of the print market in England, to argue that rather than being an advertising feature or a method of controlling reader interpretation, the space was a site of mediation, and even collaboration between the various individuals and groups involved in the production, dissemination and reception of the work. I demonstrate that the form and function of the space could shift and change to accommodate the needs of each of these groups, and as a result, the work itself could acquire multiple layers of meaning, ultimately affecting the relationship between text and reader. I show that these sites were dynamic; they did not have definitive responsibilities or adhere to strict definitions. This allows me to explore reading practices more broadly, and argue that these spaces were significant in getting readers to think, in an analytical, rather than in a specific or cursory way. I consider how the space was used in a range of texts printed by Thomas Berthelet, a central, but elusive, figure in the English print market whose career spanned three decades, three monarchs and the dissolution of the Catholic Church in England. The texts studied in most detail include a book on land management, The Book of Surveying, by John Fitzherbert; translations by Margaret More Roper, Richard Hyrde and William Thomas on the subject of female conduct; works by Thomas Elyot, most especially his Dictionary and The Image of Governance; and A Glasse of the Truthe and The Kings Book, both supposedly written in collaboration with King Henry VIII. Closely analysing the narratives created in the prefatory discourses to these texts reveals that writers across various genres were using the space in order to more evenly distribute interpretive authority amongst those who would at some point engage with the text. The pre-text, or paratext, I argue, destabilises the objectives of many of these works which purportedly reflect the interests of the political, cultural, and intellectual elite. More widely this thesis challenges notions of the printed text as a definitive or complete artefact, used as a way of inscribing the social or cultural predominance of one group over another. By interrupting dominant narratives and encouraging more critical engagement with literary texts, the paratext does not reflect a static, hierarchical dissemination of information from above. In this space, the production of knowledge is not linear, but rather complex and multidimensional. Recognising this as a sustained feature of works produced by Berthelet will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between textual producers and readers. In the absence of biographical evidence, it also brings his career into focus, showing that Berthelet was a printer continually aligned with these equivocal narratives. Overall, this thesis argues that early sixteenth-century prefatory discourses were utilised by textual producers and readers in order to interrogate various aspects of early modern hegemony, and that they provided a much more significant and complex way of articulating socio-political relationships than has previously been recognised.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Matthews (Supervisor) & Fred Schurink (Supervisor)


  • Thomas Berthelet
  • History of the book
  • Paratexts
  • Printers
  • Early modern readers

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