In this article, we argue that in the development of Middle Dutch narrative literature three stages can be distinguished. In the first phase, indicated in this contribution as ‘Middle Dutch narrative literature in manuscripts’, authors of romances stuck to verse instead of prose, and stopped writing these texts after the middle of the fourteenth century. Between c. 1400 and c. 1470, Middle Dutch romances were only read in the eastern part of the Low Countries, in aristocratic circles, and not in Flanders or Brabant, the central parts of the region. The second phase, indicated as ‘Holland’, witnessed the reintroduction of Middle Dutch narrative literature by means of the printing press around 1470. In small towns located in the northern parts of the Low Countries, early printers produced prose narratives that had a strong didactic bias. These texts were adaptations of both Latin sources and Middle Dutch verse texts available in manuscript copies. The output of these printers included, in addition, editions of well-known verse narratives. The third phase, indicated as ‘Antwerp’, started with the shift of the production of printed texts from Holland to the metropolis of Antwerp in the 1480s. Antwerp printers looked for appealing sources outside of the Low Countries and adapted their material in order to attract both readers who were interested in new texts and readers who preferred texts which belonged to an established literary tradition.
Illustrated novels are characterized by the material co-existence of written text and images. This combination of figuration and writing allowing intersemiotic interpretation reached new heights with the technical advances of the turn of the sixteenth century. The multiple use of the same image within one illustrated narrative is a little-studied phenomenon linked to this special type of text. Up to now, research has mainly concentrated on the historical conditions of production to explain these repetitions. One could, however, also ask what the narrative consequences of such multiple uses of identical illustrations are. In this contribution, an attempt is made to partially answer this question by means of a close reading of a small extract of Georg Wickram’s Ritter Galmy (1539), a typical example of duplication within one novel.
The stagnation of German verse romance during the fourteenth century was broken around 1400 when new narratives in prose, combining quite disparate narrative and thematic traditions by transferring material from various cultural spheres and epochs, first appeared. Most of the texts translated into German in the fifteenth century were from the Franco-Burgundian narrative tradition. However, in addition historical subjects from Latin literature, Hellenistic romances, humanistic novels and hagiographical material, as well as Middle High German verse romances, all found their way into Early New High German prose. During this literary development a major event in media history took place, the transition from the hand-written to the printed book. This article analyses which works proved to be successful in the new market for books and which remained in the world of manuscripts. In addition, it asks how far the printed book influenced the development of prose romance and compares the manuscript tradition with the printed editions in North and South Germany during the period of incunabula. Whereas the manuscript tradition consisted of a great many regionally varied versions, only one version was extant in printed editions, or, at most, both an Upper and Lower German version existed in print till 1500, whereas Lower German incunabula mostly follow Upper German editions. There is a clear distinction between Upper German incunabula, especially those printed in Augsburg (the main printing place for vernacular literature in the fifteenth century) and books printed in the South West, where the manuscript tradition, strongly influenced by the French-Burgundian style, still played an important role, also as admired models, for the printed books in this region.