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:
Andrew Sanders teaches Modern English Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. His books include Charles Dickens: Resurrectionist and The Victorian Historical Novel.
From the first edition:
`a worthy volume, durably bound and handsomely printed ... For readers who need to know who's when and what's where, this is an invaluable reference source.'
`helpful guide ... reliable, well-informed and broad-minded commentary'
Times Literary Supplement
'Sanders's volume aims to match the kind of comprehensiveness pioneered by Morley, Saintsbury and Legouis and Cazamian, though with closer attention to, and fuller quotation from, selected texts than the earlier historians would have been allowed. His way of handling difficult moments of
historical transition is by means of an attractive eclecticism.'
Times Literary Supplement
' ... a comprehensive survey and analysis of English literature from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present day. ... its easy, accessible style will make it a valuable reference work for all readers. The publishers have aimed to provide a reliable and object guide containing a methodical and
sonsistent analysis of literature to assist both students and the general reader. This they have achieved with distinction.'
The Press. Aug '94
'a marvel of compendious scholarship and lucid prose'
Herman Goodden, SCENE (Southwestern Ontario) June 1994
`the volumes are a must for every bibliophile.'
Sunday Mid-Day (Bombay)
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