Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Angels on the Edge of the World: Geography, Literature and English Community, 1000-1534

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Angels on the Edge of the World: Geography, Literature and English Community, 1000-1534

Article excerpt

Kathy Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World: Geography, Literature and English Community, 1000-1534 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006). xiv + 191 pp. ISBN 978-0-8014-7309-8. $29.95.

England, and the British Empire that it begot, has for many centuries occupied a central and important position in the conception of the world. In Angels on the Edge of the World, Kathy Lavezzo argues that this position is a product of imperial and colonial England, and for much of its history England was more strongly characterized by a sense of global marginality and otherness (p. 2). In this engaging and provocative study, Lavezzo seeks to answer the question of how and why English writers of the medieval period actively participated in the construction, articulation, and promotion of this sense of English geographical marginality (p. 7).

Lavezzo's approach is to examine the manifestation and negotiation of this spatial trope through a series of medieval texts, beginning with Ælfric of Eynsham's reworking of Bede's tale of Gregory the Great's encounter with the angelic English slaveboys. Ælfric's response to this oft-discussed episode is here read in terms of the inherent 'strangeness' (p. 27) of the English, and Lavezzo sees this aspect of English identity as central to Ælfric's articulation of 'the ideal of a coherent English people' (p. 28), thus transforming the geographical marginality of the English into a sign of their importance. From the Anglo-Saxon period, Lavezzo next considers the trope in the writings of Gerald of Barri in relation to the English conquest of Ireland. Here we face the complication that if the English were somehow marked as important due to their marginality, then what of the even more marginal Irish? …

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