16 February 2011
Youngs, Deborah. “Cultural Networks.” Gentry Culture in Medieval England. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005. 119-33. Print.
This article seeks to define the “gentry” as a collective culture through the various means of communication and socialization in which they partake. Youngs particularly focuses on the literary and textual networks that prominent gentry families were participating in and how these families shared a literary interconnectedness both in their region and nationally that scholars can analyze to define a set of cultural values specific to the gentry. Scholars are able to deduce this shared culture in two ways: either through a “micro-study” of a particular work or through the readership of a particular text or literary genre. According to the article, one of the most widely debated topics concerning a collective gentry culture is whether or not it is established as a subculture through the horizontal ties among members of the gentry or is the gentry only a separate, collective culture in that it is constantly seeking to emulate the nobility.
I. Literary Interconnectedness
a. Early owners of literature were connected through kinship or social association. – Margaret Ford
b. Books were a channel through which gentry culture could travel which contributed to a collective consciousness.
c. Literary networks were devoid of rank and gender discrimination.
d. East Anglia: a particularly proliferate community in terms of cultural artistry, especially literature (The Household of Sir John Fastolf).
e. Literature was readily available to the provincial gentry from libraries and personal collections.
f. Many among the gentry had an “open door” policy in that various members of the gentry were welcome to the private collections of other to study or copy (Newton).
II. Textual Communities
a. Books were not created for personal reading but to be consulted by various members of the household as well as friends and neighbors.
b. Works were not only being copied, but written and shared.
c. Texts from a particular region (North East) tended to contain poems and military catalogues about the local gentry.
d. Gentry texts were not exclusively regional. Strove to establish an English rather than a regional identity.
III. Gentry Culture < Nobility?
a. There was fluidity among these textual communities between the nobles, the gentry, and the merchants.
b. Often works were passed from one group to another.
1. Is the collective gentry culture simply defined by their attempt to be non-aristocratic nobles? Is there anyway to dissociate the emergence of cultural networks in the gentry from the long established cultural networks of the nobility?
2.Youngs seems to contradict herself from the first part of the essay to the latter. She talks on page 122 about two manuscripts compiled by Robert Thornton of Yorkshire from fifteen to twenty separate manuscripts all of which were written in local dialect and some of which reflect northern spiritual trends and romances that were circulating in that region during that time period. She also says on page 124 that in the Cheshire and Lancashire region texts were being written and shared about local gentry heroes and their military exploits, a topic that anyone outside of Cheshire or Lancashire would not understand. This seems to communicate a great emphasis on regional literature and textual communities but on page 126 she says that “it is not unusual to find that the contents of the gentry manuscripts were not exclusively regional,” and she sites the Thornton manuscripts as providing an English, not a regional identity. Is this national identity the result of regional texts? I mean to say, is this English national identity the result of the compilation of all of these individual texts specific to the various regions? Do you think that this “open door” policy amongst the gentry contributed to the circulation of the regional texts and therefore made them national?
3. Youngs highlights a number of cultural communities established through the manuscripts we have including administrative records, court documents, and country communities. Textual and Literary communities are unique in that women and people of lower rank were allowed to participate and contribute both in the writing and transcribing of texts as well as the discussion. Do you think we receive a more adequate interpretation of the collective gentry culture through the study of a particular text such as the anthology of secular verse connected to the Findern family in which it is believed that up to two dozen women helped compose and edit, or through the study and analysis of a readership or a text or literary genre? In other words, do we gain more insight from the text itself or from the people who were reading it?