The Kelmscott "Chaucer" : William Morris's quest for the medieval reader.
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Davis, Annie S.
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William Morris's Kelmscott Chaucer was the culminating masterpiece of his "typological adventure," as he called his press. In preparing for his work at the press, he collected numerous medieval manuscripts as well as early printed books. Morris used his medieval scholarship as a vehicle for societal reform throughout his career; this continued with his Kelmscott editions whose medieval-inspired graphic design presented a different set of values for the reader. That is, dense frames, elaborate ornamentation, and decorated letters ensure the domination of the visual text; the density of the visual and verbal cues requires a different pace from the reader. The medieval hermeneutic of lectio divina best describes the experience of the reader. However, Burne-Jones's illustrations of the text problematize Morris's historically influenced designs by introducing aspects of l'art por l'art. By incorporating medieval graphic design in new ways Morris shapes this encounter between text and reader, the culmination of which was to encourage a counter-cultural response. Morris's work anticipates the detachment of the work of art, and the viewer, from its authentic presence, or "aura," best described by Walter Benjamin in his seminal work "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."