Around 1400, in the city of Mainz, a man was born whose heretical invention was to change history. Sixty-odd years later he died - robbed of his business, his printing presses and, so he thought, his immortality.
Reading between the lines of history, Blake Morrison has woven a stunning novel around the few facts known about the life and work of Johann Gensfleisch, aka Gutenberg, master painter, charmer, conman and visionary - the man who invented "artificial writing".
In a first novel that is both dazzling in its artistry and pure enchantment for the reader, Morrison gives us Gutenberg's testament - his justification and apologia dictated, ironically enough, to the kind of young scribe whom his invention of movable metal type made redundant. Through the eyes of the ageing narrator, the Middle Ages are seen in a strange and vivid new light. The Plague, craft guilds, religious wars, chivalric love, sexual politics, scientific invention, the rise of capitalism - all are here, but the human dramas they give rise to seem anything but "historical" or remote.
What Morrison captures is a moment of cultural transition as dramatic and immediate as the communication revolution of today. But, above all, there is the exasperating, endearing and finally haunting figure of Gutenberg himself: a man who gambled everything - money, honour, friendship and a woman's love - on the greatest invention of the last millennium.
- Publication Date:
- 01 / 09 / 2000
- 140 x 220mm