Steal not this book my honest friend : Threats, Warnings, and Curses in the Edwardian Book

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Lauren Alex O’Hagan


This article explores the role of the book inscription as an important rite of property in Edwardian Britain (1901–1914). In particular, it uses a multimodal ethnohistorical approach to examine the use of ownership marks as threats, warnings, and curses, and to explore how they were employed by their owners to deter potential malefactors. It reveals that these inscriptions were discursive acts that operated on a cline of politeness that stretched from mitigated to stronger ownership claims. However, while in the Medieval period book curses carried a serious threat of punishment, by the Edwardian era, most were written out of adherence to social tradition, thus their force lay in performing rather than describing a future act. This suggests that in the early twentieth century, book inscriptions were strongly linked to their owners’ social class and functioned symbolically to index ownership, property rights and power.


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