Cover image for The Oxford English literary history
The Oxford English literary history
Bate, Jonathan.
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volumes < 8 > : illustrations ; 23 cm
v. 8. 1830-1880 : the Victorians / Philip Davis.
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PR85 .096 2002 V.8 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Heralding a new era in literary studies, the Oxford English Literary History breaks the mould of traditional approaches to the canon by focusing on the contexts in which the authors wrote and how their work was shaped by the times in which they lived. Each volume offers a fresh, ground-breaking re-assessment of the authors, their works, and the events and ideas which shaped the literary voice of their age. Written by some of the leading scholars in the field, under the general-editorship of Jonathan Bate, the Oxford English Literary History isessential reading for everyone studying, teaching, and researching in English literature.Unlike most medieval literary histories, which end with the coming of the Tudors, this volume continues into the mid-sixteenth century, and registers the impact of Henry VIII's cultural revolution and the linking of Church and State after the break with Rome. Although potent traditions praise both'Reformation' and 'Renaissance' as moments of liberation, this book argues the reverse. Simpson shows that the emergent centralized culture narrowed and simplified the literary possibilities that had been enjoyed by late medieval writers. The consequences for literature, and even for the varietiesof English in which it was written, were dramatic.From roughly 1350, where the volume starts, a wide range of literary kinds flourished, in a wide range of dialects. Many of these texts can be described as a mixed commonwealth of styles and genres, such as Langland's Piers Plowman, Gower's Confessio Amantis, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the dramatic'mystery' cycles, and Malory's Works. In the sixteenth century this stylistic variety gave way to a literary practice that prized coherence and unity above all. Some kinds of writing, especially romance, survived. Others, such as Langland's brand of ecclesiology, the 'Aristotelian' politics of Gowerand Hoccleve, and the feminine visionary mode of Julian of Norwich, became untenable. Religious cycle drama outlived the 1530s but was suppressed within the next forty years. Sixteenth-century writing, by figures such as Wyatt, Surrey, and the dramatist John Bale, emerges in this book as the productof profoundly divided writers, torn between their commitment to the new order and their awareness of its painful, often destructive strictures.

Author Notes

James Simpson is Professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The successor to the familiar Oxford History of English Literature (1945-97), this set--as evidenced in these first two volumes--takes the "English" in "English Literary History" very seriously: volumes deal solely with literature written in England and in English. Both Simpson (Univ. of Cambridge, UK) and Davis (Univ. of Liverpool, UK) offer surveys with revisionary intent. In Davis's rumbustious volume, worldviews collide and fracture, genres evolve and dissolve, and language itself bursts its bounds; however, one finds little sense of a historical "plot" at work. In Simpson's more rhetorically sedate work, English Reformation takes a path toward "the centralizing of power" instead of antiauthoritarianism. Unlike earlier sets, this one is organized according to themes (rather than authors or genres) and the themes are treated as cross-sections of time. Thus, after reflecting on the literary-historical significance of John Leland and John Lydgate, Simpson moves on to such topics as "the tragic," "the political," and "the biblical," and Davis covers "nature," "religion," "conditions of literary production," and "lives and thoughts." Simpson's theoretical meditations on literary history may interest medievalists but not undergraduates; Davis's chapter "Nature" will leave anyone unfamiliar with Victorian science floundering. Once past these initial stumbles, the narrative improves quickly. Nonspecialists may find Simpson of most use in the chapters on Piers Plowman and the politics of vernacular Bible translation, and Davis on book production and Victorian religion. Both volumes include useful capsule biographies of key figures and suggestions for further reading. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Too difficult for all but the most advanced undergraduates; most useful for graduate students and faculty. M. E. Burstein SUNY College at Brockport

Table of Contents

General Editor's Prefacep. ix
List of Figuresp. xiv
Abbreviationsp. xvi
Note on Referencesp. xviii
Introductionp. 1
1. The Melancholy of John Leland and the Beginnings of English Literary Historyp. 7
2. The Energies of John Lydgatep. 34
3. The Tragicp. 68
4. The Elegiacp. 121
5. The Politicalp. 191
6. The Comicp. 255
7. Edifying the Churchp. 322
8. Moving Imagesp. 383
9. The Biblicalp. 458
10. The Dramaticp. 502
Envoip. 558
Regnal Datesp. 562
Author Bibliographiesp. 563
Suggestions for Further Readingp. 593
Works Citedp. 601
Indexp. 651