In January, the British Library was readying Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for digitization when they noticed an unusual handwritten note on the medieval manuscript: "She cares not a turd."
The marginalia was a surprise, and the library turned to scholars and social media for help. Who didn't give a shit? And was she really apathetic, or was this nothing more than idle gossip? We may never know the answers to these pressing questions, no doubt heartbreaking to Chaucer scholars worldwide, but for those of us who relish in marginalia — writing in books — this discovery was simply delightful.
Committing your personal thoughts to a library copy of Pride and Prejudice will certainly earn you the ire of many parties, but during the manuscript era, extra-wide margins provided scholars with plenty of room to interpret, debate, and reinforce authorial intent. They made quite a few doodles, too but whatever they scrawled, no matter how insignificant, personalized the text, transforming a standard document with each new addition. It could also be done somewhat unconsciously, lending the page an inherent intimacy. Whether this occurred in the rarest of books or one of a hundred or thousand, marginalia has the power transform the solitary act of reading into a social exploration.
Marginalia comes in many forms, and I found seven great examples at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.