Visual Rhetoric and Early Modern English Literature: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Visual Rhetoric and Early Modern English Literature

1st Edition

By Katherine Acheson


186 pages

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Early modern printed books are copiously illustrated with charts, diagrams, and other kinds of images that represent systems of thought and ways of doing things. Visual Rhetoric and Early Modern English Literature shows how these images fostered what Elizabeth Eisenstein called brainwork related to concepts of space, truth, art, and nature, and reveals their importance to poetry by Andrew Marvell and John Milton, and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. The genres of illustration considered in this book include military strategy and tactics, garden design, instrumentation, Bibles, scientific schema, drawing instruction, natural history, comparative anatomy, and Aesop’s Fables. The argument produces unique insights into the ways in which visual rhetoric affected verbal expression, and the book develops novel methods of using printed images as evidence in the interpretation of the rich, strange, and beautiful literature of early modern England.


A Baker & Taylor Literary Essentials Title ’Visual Rhetoric and Early Modern English Literature is breathtaking in its scope, taking a material, spatial, and visual approach to early modern literature. Theoretically sophisticated, the lucidly written text and lavish illustrations illuminate contemporary meanings behind the non-pictorial image in early modern texts, while at the same time developing a language for evaluating and describing them. Acheson maps this new language and knowledge onto some of the central canons of English literature, leading to some rich new interpretations of well-known works by John Milton, Andrew Marvell, and Aphra Behn. This book is a delight to read and will certainly be of use to any student or scholar of early modern mentalities.' Angela McShane, Victoria & Albert Museum ’This material is very interesting… Acheson’s analysis of seventeenth-century styles of illustration in a wide range of genres-military, horticultural, penmanship, zoology-will encourage readers to pursue their own readings of literary works in dialogue with the vertiginous pleasures� of contemporary visual culture.’ Times Literary Supplement 'Enhanced by forty reproductions of early modern printed images, Katherine Acheson's Visual Rhetoric and Early Modern English Literature explores the rich modes of representation embodied in seventeenth-century illustrations and diagrams … Her thoughts on Behn are characteristic of the interesting connections she establishes between diagrams and literature throughout the book …' Seventeenth-Century News ’The book is a valuable addition to the literature on early modern technical book illustration and will give literary critics and others an important window on to the visual culture within which literary works operate.’ BARS Review 'The links between the literature and the diagrams are mutually illuminating … Visual Rhetoric provides an unexpected point of entry into core critical dilemmas of seve

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: printed images and early modern English literature; Space: 'The discription of the worlde': military, horticultural, and technical illustration and Andrew Marvell’s Gardens; Truth: The 'way of dichotomy': dichotomous tables and John Milton’s Paradise Lost; Art: 'Speculatory ingenuity': painting, writing, and Andrew Marvell’s 'last instructions to a painter'; Nature: 'surveying Nature, with too nice a view': naturalistic, realistic, anatomical, and allegorical animals in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko; Works cited; Index.

About the Author

Katherine O. Acheson is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Waterloo, Canada.

About the Series

Material Readings in Early Modern Culture

Material Readings in Early Modern Culture

This series provides a forum for studies that consider the material forms of texts as part of an investigation into early modern English culture. The editors invite proposals of a multi- or interdisciplinary nature, and particularly welcome proposals that combine archival research with an attention to the theoretical models that might illuminate the reading, writing, and making of texts, as well as projects that take innovative approaches to the study of material texts, both in terms the kinds of primary materials under investigation, and in terms of methodologies. What are the questions that have yet to be asked about writing in its various possible embodied forms? Are there varieties of materiality that are critically neglected? How does form mediate and negotiate content? In what ways do the physical features of texts inform how they are read, interpreted and situated? Consideration will be given to both monographs and collections of essays. The range of topics covered in this series includes, but is not limited to:

-History of the book, publishing, the book trade, printing, typography (layout, type, typeface, blank/white space, paratextual apparatus)

-Technologies of the written word: ink, paper, watermarks, pens, presses

-Surprising or neglected material forms of writing

-Print culture


-Manuscript studies

-Social space, context, location of writing

-Social signs, cues, codes imbued within the material forms of texts

-Ownership and the social practices of reading: marginalia, libraries, environments of reading and reception

-Codicology, palaeography and critical bibliography

-Production, transmission, distribution and circulation

-Archiving and the archaeology of knowledge

-Orality and oral culture

-The material text as object or thing

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings: