A History of Old English Literature / Edition 1

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Alexander's A History of Old English Literature is an outstanding introduction to a difficult period of literary history. It provides a simple historical and cultural context for the study of the Anglo-Saxons, and offers a history, illustrated by many passages in translation, of the whole of the literature that survives. While it contains solid, insightful and sensible criticism of individual literary works, its overall historical organization suggests that Old English literature was created in a cultural context that changed from one century to another. Although its intentions are scholarly, this history of Old English literature is also an introduction, assuming little knowledge of this period or its surviving products, and none of its language. This edition has been revised and rewritten throughout, and offers a new preface as well as an updated bibliography.

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Editorial Reviews

Tom Shippey St. Louis University
"Old English literature has long been the preserve of scholars and specialists. Michael Alexander's A History of Old English Literature now fills a major gap by introducing both prose and poetry, literature and history, in an accessible style which communicates his own lifelong love of the subject. Especially attractive are the translations, at once accurate and colloquial, which disperse the antiquarian miasma hanging round the subject while keeping the vital touch of strangeness. Alexander's book is now the best and most complete one-volume guide to the whole of Old English, oldest and best-recorded of the vernaculars of Dark Age Europe."
Margaret Connolly University College Cork
"A lucid, eminently readable survey, altogether a cosy hearth-companion."
Old English literary history is sketchy, even more so with poetry where there is little internal evidence of place, date, occasion, or author. And there is a paucity of surviving verse<-->about 31,000 extant lines mostly written near the year 1000 in the late West-Saxon dialect, works such as , the Exeter Book, the Vercelli Book and the Junius Book. Alexander (English, U. of St. Andrews) begins with an historical overview of England, 449-1066 and then devotes the greater part of the book to OE works in several traditions: heroic poetry, riddles, Bede's and Caedmon's (or those works thought to be Caedmon's), poetic elegies ( and ), Alfred and OE prose, Christian establishment verse, the Benedictine revival, and late prose and verse. The book is scholarly but does not assume prior knowledge of Old English. Originally published in 1984 and revised in 2000; this is a paper reprint of the 2000 edition. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781551113227
  • Publisher: Broadview Press
  • Publication date: 1/14/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 299
  • Sales rank: 925,869
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Alexander is Berry Professor of English Literature, University of St. Andrews; his many works include The Earliest English Poems and Beowulf: A Verse Translation.

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Table of Contents

Chronological Table
I. Perspectives
1. What has survived
2. Songs and Scribes
3. The end of heathenism
4. The languages of Britain
5. Contexts
II. England 449-1066
1. Old English
2. Conquest
3. Conversion
4. Sutton Hoo and warrior society
5. Conversion and accommodation
6. Bede's Northumbria
7. Theodore and a learned Church
8. Wessex
9. The Benedictine Revival
III. Heroic poetry including Beowulf
1. The heroic ethos
2. Germanic heroic poetry
3. Versification
4. Poetic diction
5. Formulaic composition
6. The uses of poetry
7. Beowulf
IV. The world's wonder: Riddles
1. Riddles
2. Verse Wisdom
V. Bede and Cædmon
1. The Ecclesiastical History
2. Cædmon
VI. The Poetic Elegies
1. Wanderer and Seafarer
2. Other Elegies
VII. Alfred and Old English prose
1. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
2. Books most needful
VIII. Verse of the Christian establishment
1. Saints' lives: Andreas
2. Elene
3. Christ
4. The Dream of the Rood
IX. The Benedictine Revival
1. Aelfric's Colloquy
2. Aelfric's Homilies
3. Wulfstan
4. Verse of the tenth century
5. Maldon
X. Afterwards
1. Old and Middle
2. Late Prose
Appendix: A Note on Deor
Notes on the Plates
Bibliography and Further Reading

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