The Short Oxford History of English Literature

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9780198112020: The Short Oxford History of English Literature

Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, Andrew Sanders notes, had its start by accident. The first writer entombed there (long before it was known by today's name) was Geoffrey Chaucer--so honored not for his works, but because he had lived nearby and had distant connections to the crown. But Chaucer was lionized by future generations, especially by Edmund Spenser, who was the next poet to take his place in the Corner. Over time, more men of letters followed (including Ben Jonson, John Dryden, and Charles Dickens), as England turned this corner of the Abbey into a tribute to its writers. The growth of Poets' Corner, Sanders writes, mirrors the conscious efforts of writers to create the British literary tradition--the physical expression of the emerging canon.
In The Short Oxford History of English Literature, Sanders conducts us on a tour through the living past behind the stone effigies of Poets' Corner--capturing the vast history of the literature of the British isles in a single, fascinating narrative. Starting with the early Anglo-Saxon period, he ranges right up to the present, with individual chapters on Old and Middle English literature, the Renaissance, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Romantics, Victorian and Edwardian Literature, Modernism, and post-war writing. Throughout, the author combines concise analyses of individual works and authors with an overarching sense of how they interacted in a single literary tradition. The dramas of Shakespeare, for example, have long since eclipsed those of his contemporaries Kyd and Marlowe; but Sanders reminds us of the "symbiotic relationship" between the Bard and his rivals, especially Marlowe. He goes on to crisply assess the interaction of Shakespeare's plays with the politics and emerging nationalism of the period. Sanders applies this sensitivity to the relationship between literature and larger social issues elsewhere as well; after providing an outstanding critical examination of Dickens's novels, he firmly sets them in the context of the "Condition of England" fiction so popular in the nineteenth century, including the works of such lesser lights as Harriet Martineau and Charles Kingsley. Sanders ranges far beyond the boundaries of England, examining the impact of Scottish writers and philosophers, the rich traditions of Irish literature, and the works of Welsh authors as well. And he brings his analysis up to the post-modern present, looking at such writers as Seamus Heaney and Angela Carter.
The literature of Britain has long since become a part of the cultural heritage of the world--an inspiration to literary traditions in America and elsewhere, and a continuing source of pleasure. The Short Oxford History of English Literature provides a remarkably concise account of this rich past, offering food for thought and an even deeper enjoyment of the great works.

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About the Author:


About the Author:
Andrew Sanders teaches Modern English Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. His books include Charles Dickens: Resurrectionist and The Victorian Historical Novel.

From Library Journal:

Designed to replace Emile Legouis's A Short History of English Literature (Oxford Univ. Pr., 1934), Sanders's work competes with one-volume histories by Pat Rogers (The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature, Oxford Univ. Pr., 1987), Alastair Fowler (A History of English Literature, LJ 3/1/88), and Peter Quennell (A History of English Literature, LJ 1/1/74. o.p.). Sanders includes more information than Fowler but lacks the advantage of the photographs, art work, and maps found in Rogers and Quennell. He skillfully introduces controversies about the development of an English literature canon and explains how writers got selected for burial in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, arguing that English literature has always been rife with contradiction, "both multiple and polarized, both popular and elite." His book has ten major chapters covering Old English, medieval, Renaissance, Shakespearean, 17th- and 18th-century, Romantic, Victorian, Modern, and postwar literature. Innovative essays include "Women's Writing in the Restoration" and "The New Morality," which examines the 1970s and 1980s. Recommended for academic and most public libraries.
J. Thorndike, Lakeland Coll., Sheboygan, Wis.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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