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A History of Old English Literature 

A History of Old English Literature

Written by: Michael Alexander

Publication Date: January 01, 2002
299pp • Paperback
ISBN: 9781551113227 / 1551113228

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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.


"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." - Tom Shippey, St. Louis University

"A lucid, eminently readable survey, altogether a cosy hearth-companion." - Margaret Connolly, University College Cork

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.

Academics please note that this is a title classified as having a restricted allocation of complimentary copies. While the availability of bound complimentary copies is restricted to desk copies only, electronic complimentary copies are readily available for those professors wishing to consider this title for possible course adoption. Should you choose to adopt the book after viewing an electronic copy we will be happy to provide a bound desk copy.

Table of Contents: [Back to Top]



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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A History of Old English Literature

2002 • 299pp • Paperback • 9781551113227 / 1551113228

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Broadview Press acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund, and also acknowledges the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation. Freehand Books, an imprint of Broadview, acknowledges the support of the Canadian Council of the Arts.