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Date of Award
Elizabeth S. Sklar
This study has at its base an analysis of the editorial methodologies, selection criteria, and evaluative comments of several major Anglo-Saxonists during the nineteenth century. While an investigation of the development of the canon of Old English literature serves as the underlying framework, a substantial component entails an examination of the way that an idealized Anglo-Saxon past informed the construction of an English cultural and national identity as shown in the use of Anglo-Saxon texts and myths in the development of English history and "tradition." Although chivalric and Arthurian-centered medievalism captured the imagination of nineteenth-century writers more widely, Anglo-Saxon medievalism (or Anglo-Saxonism) was a concurrent phenomenon. Anglo-Saxonism had a role in the creation of an English past worthy of the prevailing sense of a superior English national identity. The first chapter addresses the status of Anglo-Saxon studies and Old English literature at the end of the eighteenth century. Chapters 2, 3, 5, and 6 explore Old English literary texts produced between 1800 and 1860 by five Anglo-Saxon scholars. Their descriptions of the texts they (re)produced, their editorial methods, their evaluations of particular works, and their commentary upon Old English literature in general are examined. Sharon Turner is the subject of chapter 2; John Conybeare and William Conybeare of chapter 3; Benjamin Thorpe of chapter 5; and John Mitchell Kemble of chapter 6. Chapter 4 reviews the influence of the work of several continental scholars. Based on the preceding chapters as well as other sources, Chapter 7 discusses the establishment of the Old English literary canon during the nineteenth century. Chapter 8 examines depictions of Anglo-Saxons and Old English literature made by novelists, poets, historians, biographers, and journalists. Such interpretations demonstrate not only the privileging of selected aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture, but also the biases operating in the creation of historical narratives and representations of Englishness. This chapter explores the effect of Anglo-Saxonism upon nineteenth-century cultural, social, and political discourses relating most especially to religion, race, language, and government and the effect of these discourses upon English national identity.
Towell, Julie Ellen, "The rise and progress of Anglo-Saxonism and English national identity: Old English Literature in the Nineteenth Century." (2003). Wayne State University Dissertations. 3384.