Paratexts and pornographic potential in seventeenth-century anatomy books

Kit Heyam

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Abstract

This article discusses paratexts in seventeenth-century anatomy books and their relation to contemporary concerns that these books might be read erotically. Suggesting that discussions of these concerns have hitherto neglected the material object of the book, I argue for the importance of paratexts (illustrations, legends, prefaces, running titles and marginal notes) as sites of negotiation over anatomy books’ pornographic potential. I examine these paratexts both as strategies by which writers and printers carefully and collaboratively attempt to frustrate erotic reading, and as devices that might simultaneously function to facilitate this mode of reading. The centrality of these concerns to the construction of anatomy books indicates, I suggest, a need to augment our characterisation of early modern readers, incorporating wilfully thoughtless and/or excessive reading alongside active and productive reading. My discussion focuses on Helkiah Crooke’s Mikrokosmographia, and is supplemented with analysis of other English anatomy books published throughout the seventeenth century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-647
JournalThe Seventeenth Century
Volume34
Issue number5
Early online date28 Aug 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes

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