Academic journal article Medium Aevum

From the Norman Conquest to the Black Death: An Anthology of Writings from England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

From the Norman Conquest to the Black Death: An Anthology of Writings from England

Article excerpt

From the Norman Conquest to the Black Death: An Anthology of Writings from England, ed. Douglas Gray (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). xx + 5 91 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-81235 3-8. £89.00. Douglas Gray's introduction to this anthology expresses an awareness of the need to keep 'expense within reasonable bounds' (p. vii), but its current cover-price of well over £80 effectively prohibits its use as a student text-book. This is unfortunate, because it is clearly for students that this book was designed. 'Its humble objective is to help students of English literature deal with the transition from "Old English" to "Middle English".' However, as this formulation suggests, it is also shaped by a narrow conception of the cultural and historical significance of the Conquest-to-Plague period. Gray does express the hope that readers might be encouraged to 'explore further the riches of Latin and Anglo-Norman', but in practice his presentation of the Latin and French texts is subordinated to a determined emphasis on the centrality of 'English literature' even in this period.

Middle English texts are presented in the original language, with regularized spelling. The prose is given relatively generous treatment, with texts followed by translations as well, but the poetry is supported only by glossing. It is not clear whether these texts have been freshly edited from the manuscripts. French and Latin texts, by contrast, do not appear in edited texts of any kind, only in Gray's own English versions, which he describes as 'straightforward close translations'. Existing translations, he says, 'are often very good, though sometimes rather free'. What this tends to mean is that AngloFrench and Anglo-Latin writings are represented by some rather pedestrian cribs that do little justice to the fluency or the subtlety of the originals. …

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