Middle English Literature / Edition 1

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This book provides a boldly original account of Middle English literature from the Norman Conquest to the beginning of the sixteenth century. It argues that these centuries are, in fundamental ways, the momentous period in our literary history, for they are the long moment in which the category of literature itself emerged as English writing began to insist, for the first time, that it floated free of any social reality or function.

This book also charts the complex mechanisms by which English writing acquired this power in a series of linked close readings of both canonical and more obscure texts. It encloses those readings in five compelling accounts of much broader cultural areas, describing, in particular, the productive relationship of Middle English writing to medieval technology, insurgency, statecraft and cultural place, concluding with an in depth account of the particular arguments, emphases and techniques English writers used to claim a wholly new jurisdiction for their work.

Both this history and its readings are everywhere informed by the most exciting developments in recent Middle English scholarship as well as literary and cultural theory. It serves as an introduction to all these areas as well as a contribution, in its own right, to each of them.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Christopher Cannon's latest book makes one fall in love with Middle English literature all over again ... a book that - I am convinced - will endure as one of the most cogent, sophisticated, and delightful introductions to English medieval literary history."

"This is a scintillating cultural history of Middle English literature, punctuated throughout with critical insights ... Cannon's succinct and vivid style allows him to introduce striking bits of philosophical or cultural theory alongside descriptions of crucial technological innovations ... equipped with its bibliographical guides and timeline, Medieval English Literature achieves the enviable aim of providing the student with both a cultural history and plenty of original literary commentary."
Medium Auvum

"Following in the distinguished footsteps of Derek Pearsall and James Simpson, Christopher Cannon offers an exhilarating grand tour of Middle English literature. Cannon’s writing is not just efficient but also elegant and pithy. His aphorisms condense knotty arguments and enact complex critical positions with unusual poise and insight. But underpinning his approach throughout is a philologist’s ability to listen attentively to the voices of the pages, to display what Nietzsche called 'the leisurely art of the goldsmith applied to language'."

Vincent Gillespie, University of Oxford

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Christopher Cannon, Fellow of Girton College and University Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge
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Table of Contents


A Note on Texts and Quotations

1 Technology 8

Romance 12

Confession 21

Printing 35

2 Insurgency 40

Complaint 43

Satire 58

The rise of English 67

3 Statecraft 72

Censorship 75

Propaganda 86

Counsel 97

4 Place 105

The schoolroom 108

Religious communities 117

The household 123

Cities and towns 132

The way or the street 143

5 Jurisdiction 150

The church 153

Laughter 164

The aesthetic 173

Resources for Study 187

Chronology 191

Notes 197

References 220

Index 245

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