Hidden Hands is a book about manuscripts, and more than that, about the people behind the manuscripts. It’s not necessarily about the most beautiful or most impressive manuscripts, or the rarest, though it discusses manuscripts from all those categories. Wellesley isn’t just interested in the contents of the manuscripts, but also the people who composed the words, the scribes who wrote the actual script, the owners of the manuscript, and the potential readers of them.
I was familiar with most of the manuscripts mentioned, to the point where I’d have been interested in hearing more about the Pearl/Gawain manuscript or something for once, rather than the Beowulf manuscript yet a-fucking-gain. There were a couple of surprises too, though, like the discussion of the collection of letters from a particular family and how some of them were illiterate and thus the anxiety about the use of scribes. I’m not sure I’d normally count a collection of letters as a manuscript, but it was still an interesting section.
I also knew nothing about Gwerful Mechain, a medieval Welsh poet who wrote erotic poetry and protests against the misogynistic poetry circulating in her day. She was a definite and welcome surprise to me (as was the mention of a scholar who taught me, Katie Gramich).
All in all, I felt like there was so much to say that it would have merited a longer book, one which I would’ve read eagerly!