Applause for ‘Inspector Carley of the York University division of literary sleuths’

The word “bibliography” can send a cold chill down some people’s spines, wrote Globe and Mail columnist John Fraser Oct. 30. In the world of scholarship, however, bibliography and bibliographic issues can be the stuff of life itself. A richly illustrated new book by a noted Canadian scholar underscores the remarkable growth in the formal study of book history, said Fraser, who is master of Massey College at the University of Toronto.

This pace-setting work, entitled The Books of King Henry VIII and His Wives, delves deeply into the Tudor monarch’s personal library, now housed mainly in the British Library. These caches of books were largely ignored as research material for centuries. James Carley, a Distinguished Research Professor in the Faculty of Arts English Department at York University, began combing them more than a decade ago and has already published one hugely influential study on the subject, The Libraries of Henry VIII.

“Scholars have become interested in the book as object,” notes historian David Starkey in his preface to Carley’s new book. Carley has taken that idea a significant step further by examining the whole notion of book acquisition – not just how a volume came to be in a library, but who recommended it and why, and how it was deployed. These are hugely important questions in the context of the Tudor era, because printed books then were coming into their own as the religious wars were heating up. It was also a time when printers could be executed for publishing inflammatory texts.

“Some observers,” wrote Fraser, “could be excused for thinking that it was also an age that had nothing new to divulge about Henry, his break with Rome and his restless libido. That’s why Prof. Carley’s research is so exciting: It sheds shafts of strong light on murky ecclesiastical darkness and on issues fraught with seemingly irresolvable scholarly controversy.

“The debate over Anne Boleyn, for example, has been largely mired in three increasingly venomous schools of thought: Was Henry’s doomed second queen a bewitching sexual temptress who paid the price of regal sexual boredom? Or was she the darling of English Protestants and the true founder of the reformed Church of England? Or, then again, was she not much of anything other than a vehicle for her ambitious family’s aspirations?

“This was wonderfully fertile territory for Inspector Carley of the York University division of literary sleuths to poke about in.”

Fraser continued: “Prof. Carley’s achievement is both concrete and interpretive. He has brought Henry VIII’s books out of the back shelves of the British Library and Lambeth Palace (not to mention collections in Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, New York, Antwerp, Lisbon and Geneva), and they will never again be so forsaken. He has shown definitively that Henry stockpiled books to justify some of the most controversial decisions of his reign, including his divorce from his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, and his break with the Church of Rome.

“Anne Boleyn’s own library provides abundant proof that she was a major player in the Reformation warfare going on in England, and keen to keep Henry on a path leading away from Rome. She comes vibrantly alive emerging as a kind of Tudor Barbara Amiel – beautiful, sexy, ideological and extravagant (many of her books, like her wardrobe, were luxuriously made) – in other words, trouble with a capital T.

“The English bibliographic bible is the learned journal The Library. In a rare tribute a year and a half ago, the publication lauded Prof. Carley for his ‘heroic endeavour’ in forging new scholarly territory in a decade’s worth of single-minded study: ‘Carley demonstrates in exemplary fashion how bibliographical research may resolve problems of historical interpretation when other sources have already been exhausted. Anne Boleyn’s disputed commitment to evangelical Christianity has been proved in the end by a historian of the book. Henry’s libraries, as revealed by Carley’s work, represent a resounding invitation to historians to continue his kind of research.’

“That’s heady stuff, but for me the excitement of his work (distributed in Canada by the University of Toronto Press) can be summed up by a single bit of marginalia Prof. Carley discovered in Henry’s own hand on a page of a well-thumbed book held at Lambeth Palace. The king, presumably trolling for a rationale to ditch his first wife, was clearly unamused with a point the author, chaplain to Catherine of Aragon, was making. Beside one clearly noxious bit of type, in his own strong hand, he has scribbled: ‘It is false.’”

Molson ads need more youthful buzz

Molson Inc. has dropped the advertising agency that created Molson Canadian’s Rant ad, arguably the country’s most famous commercial, and moved its top beer brand to the country’s hottest shop, Toronto’s Zig Inc., reported the National Post Nov. 2. “What they have got to do is get the youthful buzz back in the beer because that is what it has sadly lacked the last two or three years,” said Alan Middleton, a marketing professor with York University’s Schulich School of Business and a former ad executive on Labatt’s brands. “This is an experimental generation and the problem with Molson Canadian is not that people drink it occasionally – lots of people do that – but it is losing its status as the regular brand you go back to.”

On air

  • Stephen Newman, political science professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts, discussed the issues and campaign of the American presidential election, on CFRB’s “Jim Richards Show” Nov. 1.
  • David Dewitt, director of the York Centre for International & Security Studies, discussed the world’s view of the presidential election, on OMNI.2’s “Omni News: South Asian Edition” Nov. 1.