Loo's Reviews > The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1: The Middle Ages through the Restoration & the Eighteenth Century

The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1 by M.H. Abrams
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Apr 28, 09

bookshelves: textbooks

This was a perfectly serviceable book, with many, many good texts in it, including all of Paradise Lost, the Canterbury Tales, and other fascinating works. My only gripe is this: they didn't get the best translations. With the medieval texts, especially, they would keep them with the older wording, where every word has to have a footnote in order to be understood. I'm not talking about Shakespeare, I'm talking about "By housbondrie, of swich as God hir sente, / She foond hirself and eek hire doghtren two." This is really hard to get through, and I ended up looking up a more modern translation of some pieces on the internet (which were very enjoyable, by the way).
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message 1: by Lia (new)

Lia I have to defend the purpose of keeping the Middle English in the text. The thing is, the medieval texts aren't translations; they're the original words. Back then English was in an in-between state from the very German/Welsh Old English and the more like present-day English of Early Modern English (that would be Shakespeare). The anthology was giving you the real deal. I personally like to have dual language translations when I'm working with a Middle English texts (with the original on one page and the modern English translation on the facing page) so I can read the original and jump over to the translation when needed.

Stephen Greenblatt was the editor/compiler of your anthology?! That's way cool. He's a prominent new historical critic that I read as a graduate student. Cool.

One last thought: If there's a class on the history of the English language, you might want to take it. I LOVED that class. You get to read and translate Old and Middle English texts and work with a lot of Early Modern English texts as well. It gave me a wonderful understanding of why our language is the way it is.

Like the word "name"--we only pronounce the first three letters with the last letter being silent. It wasn't always silent. It was an inflected "e" that meant something. It just lost its purpose as the language evolved and then lost its pronunciation, too. Anyway, it was one of my all-time favorite classes as an undergraduate.

And thanks for putting up your textbooks. It's so fun to see what you've been reading and studying.

Alan The whole point is the development of English from an almost French (the Normans, after all) language--French was used in Englsih courts until around 1475. Now, this may well make it more of a "schoolbook" than a nightly read.

message 3: by Loo (new) - rated it 3 stars

Loo Yes, that is what I have come to learn. I realize now that this is actually an excellent anthology--but for those with the smarts to use it. I sadly had none when I took the class.

Alan On the other hand, anthologies notoriously select away from the anomalous--I know mainly from freshman anthologies which I taught dozens of. The best for my money was XJ Kennedy's earliest; from the 2nd edition on, in an attempt to reinforce the dreary norms of freshman lit classes, they edited out much of the stuff I taught: the musical setting of ballads, the short play Tom Thumb, etc. Most of the pieces that made it an interesting collection. Arguably, anthologies like the Norton destroy students' sense of the hard-won, momentary nature of literature. Why, the Norton is a Bible in the classic sense: and bibles are imposed by authorities, not readers. For instance, the OT Macabees is written by an ironist, and banned from the Bible. Our loss, literarily.

message 5: by Loo (new) - rated it 3 stars

Loo Huh. Good point. So I guess the trick is to get a good anthology taught by a teacher who can help the uneducated student UNDERSTAND the worth of the anthology. Otherwise both the anthology and the student are ruined.

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