Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Comparative Literature and Literary Theory

First Advisor

Margreta de Grazia

Second Advisor

Peter Stallybrass


The language of plants saturated the English print marketplace in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as printers turned out an extraordinary number of instructional manuals on gardening and husbandry, retailing useful knowledge to a growing class of literate landowners and pleasure gardeners. In those same decades, increasing numbers of miscellanies were issued under titles drawn from the world of plants: poetical gardens, devotional nosegays, forests and bowers of practical wisdom. "Bound Flowers, Loose Leaves" examines these parallel trends as part of a single phenomenon. Against the unknowns of a new and expanding market, the horticultural processes evoked by these diverse texts naturalize the anonymous futures of print publication, situating the new adventure of print within that most ancient discipline of risk management: agriculture. This dissertation argues that these vegetable discourses fundamentally shaped how English readers understood the printed book. With remarkable frequency, printed books turned to a botanical idiom to describe their prodigious capacity to scatter, gather, and multiply, especially in the small literary forms of couplets, posies, and sentences. Showing how plant life became fundamental to how the world was imagined and known in print, I argue that the portability of these "handles of knowledge," in Philip Sidney's phrase, drove the production of both figurative language and natural knowledge in early modern England. In readings of popular instruction manuals and miscellanies as well as works by Isabella Whitney, George Gascoigne, Francis Bacon, and William Shakespeare, I show how these practical instructions and poetic figures organize a fictive reading public, imagined as dispersed consumers of scattered textual copies.

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