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Anglo-Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination


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"An excellent collection... breaks new ground in many areas. Should make a substantial impact on the discussion of the contemporary influence of Anglo-Saxon Culture". Conor McCarthy, author of Seamus Heaney and the Medieval Imagination

Britain's pre-Conquest past and its culture continues to fascinate modern writers and artists. From Henry Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader to Seamus Heaney's Beowulf, and from high modernism to the musclebound heroes of comic book and Hollywood, Anglo-Saxon England has been a powerful and often unexpected source of inspiration, antagonism, and reflection. The essays here engage with the ways in which the Anglo-Saxons and their literature have been received, confronted, and re-envisioned in the modern imagination. They offer fresh insights on established figures, such as W.H. Auden, J.R.R. Tolkien, and David Jones, and on contemporary writers such as Geoffrey Hill, Peter Reading, P.D. James, and Heaney. They explore the interaction between text, image and landscape in medieval and modern books, the recasting of mythic figures such as Wayland Smith, and the metamorphosis of Beowulf into Grendel - as a novel and as grand opera. The early medieval emerges not simply as a site of nostalgia or anxiety in modern revisions, but instead provides a vital arena for creativity, pleasure, and artistic experiment.

Contributors: Bernard O'Donoghue, Chris Jones, Mark Atherton, Maria Artamonova, Anna Johnson, Clare A. Lees, Sian Echard, Catherine A.M. Clarke, Maria Sachiko Cecire, Allen J. Frantzen, John Halbrooks, Hannah J. Crawforth, Joshua Davies, Rebecca Anne Barr


[T]he editors are to be commended for producing a handsomely illustrated, rich collection. ENGLISH STUDIES

This rich collection of essays looks back to the influence of Anglo-Saxon culture in nineteenth-century and modernist writers, and explores a diverse range of more contemporary "moments of intersection between past and present". MEDIUM AEVUM

Have assembled a scholarly and unfailingly interesting foundation for a study of the impact of the Anglo-Saxon world on our own, as well as proving how much potential there is in the topic. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

The book is physically beautiful, soundly edited, and intellectually stimulating from beginning to end. [...] Any medievalist who reads this volume will surely learn something new about the reception of Anglo- Saxon culture, be surprised by the extent of this reception, and get ideas for new research in this area. [...] It is an excellent book that will hopefully make a real intellectual and institutional impact. ANGLIA

The collection as a whole makes a powerful and often entertaining case for the myriad pathways by which the Anglo-Saxon past inhabits, enlivens and even transforms the cultural imagination of our present, such that we can see that it never stops informing us about what it means to "be English". TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT


First Published: 21 Oct 2010
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843842514
6 colour, 11 black and white illustrations
Pages: 302
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: D.S.Brewer

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  From Heorot to Hollywood: Beowulf in its Third Millennium
  • 3  Priming the Poets: the Making of Henry Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader
  • 4  Owed to Both Sides: W.H. Auden's Double Debt to the Literature of the North
  • 5  Writing for an Anglo-Saxon Audience in the Twentieth Century: J.R.R. Tolkien's Old English Chronicles
  • 6  'Wounded men and wounded trees': David Jones and the Anglo-Saxon Culture Tangle
  • 7  Basil Bunting, Briggflatts, Lindisfarne, and Anglo-Saxon Interlace
  • 8  BOOM: Seeing Beowulf in Pictures and Print
  • 9  Window in the Wall: Looking for Grand Opera in John Gardner's Grendel
  • 10  Re-placing Masculinity: The DC Comics Beowulf Series and its Context, 1975-6
  • 11  P.D. James Reads Beowulf
  • 12  Ban Welondes: Wayland Smith in Popular Culture
  • 13  'Overlord of the M5': The Superlative Structure of Sovereignty in Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns
  • 14  The Absent Anglo-Saxon Past in Ted Hughes's Elmet
  • 15  Resurrecting Saxon Things: Peter Reading, 'species decline', and Old English Poetry