Document Type

Open Access Article

Author Biography

Georgina Wilson is an Early Career Research Fellow in early modern literature at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. She is working on a book about paper’s imaginative and material role in the making of literature.


This article models a mode of feminist bibliography by “surface reading” paper. Taking Ben Jonson’s Sejanus His Fall (1605) as a case study, this article reads watermarks as reminders of paper’s three-dimensional materiality, whose surfaces and depths model the more and less legible forms of labor which contribute to paper’s making. Watermarks here become a creative and critical prompt to recover the interventions of John Spilman (the papermaker whose output was used for Sejanus), Spilman’s workers, and especially his female ragpickers. This article fuses close reading of literary texts and archival sources with bibliography and theory to demonstrate fresh affordances of watermarks—both as they alter our reading of Sejanus and as they intervene more broadly in the affective and political models with which we read.

(In the issue section "Uncovering Labor")