the norton anthology of english literature

the norton anthology of english literature

Exploring the Rich Tapestry of English Literature: A Comprehensive Analysis through The Norton Anthology

1. Introduction to The Norton Anthology of English Literature

The initial sections of this Norton Anthology are as much about their Best of approach as they are about the ‘complete coverage of historical background’ approach. In fact, the Introduction gives the reader the impression that the Anthology’s illustration of major developments in literary history alongside major contributions of each spectacular author is actually complemented by its superior quality paper, design, and additional material. Thus, the Norton Anthology holds a special position in the educator’s mind, offering innovative ways to teach the classical texts of English literature. The readings make for more complex and evocative learning experiences, presenting the text in the same way they originally appeared. English literature offers a broad and rich selection of the key authors whose work has defined and continues to shape the field to a complex tapestry. With its rich understanding of literary movements, students of English literature are brought direct texts that are the foundation of every movement in literature.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, now in its ninth edition (Volume 1), is today the most comprehensive collection of English literature, tracing its history from the Middle Ages up to the Jug Age. Adopted for AP English courses and taught ubiquitously in universities, it draws from various time periods of English literature, integrating history, biography, sociology, and the likes, thereby presenting the students with a multidisciplinary perspective necessary to understand a text’s cultural significance. The authors’ engagement with the texts, their innovative principles of selection, beautifully written document introductions, and headnotes, thorough editorial apparatus, complete with full bibliography, and flexible organization is not only “essential for undergraduate courses” but is also “a reliable aid for many specialized graduate courses.” In its course it has the effect to introduce students to critical and academic writing, which are important life skills. This review discusses the contents and salient features of Volume 1 of The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

2. Key Periods and Movements in English Literature Covered in the Anthology

This term has been given to a group of late-century writers including Marvell, Sir Thomas Browne, and John Milton. In England, this century was aptly labeled The Augustan Age. The latter part of the 1700s is often called The Age of Johnson, for Samuel Johnson’s impact on English letters. This period began in the last half of the Victorian era and would have continued into the 20th century had not World War I ended it abruptly. In the Victorian period, literature was pre-eminently the means by which complaints could be registered and problems voiced, and this motive informed both the fiction and the poetry of the era. Poetry was particularly important during this period, both for its direct engagement with critically important issues and for the role it played in permitting and directing the energies of other literary forms. Now, however, much of this challenge is addressed to fiction. The growing importance of the novel is a major literary and social development by the end of the period.

Old English literature is mostly poetry, which was written for a tradition of oral performance. In Introduction to Literature Open Yale Course, edited 9/11/11, 6 such as The Wanderer and Beowulf. These works are important as unique manifestations of their period, and also for their aesthetic appeal and as expressions of their culture, one widely recognized by modern readers. St. Augustine was the most important Christian influence in England. Early newspapers, ballads, and pamphlets were all important genres of Renaissance literature. Samuel Pepys’s diary is today one of the most famous writings from 1660s England.

3. Major Authors and Works Included in the Anthology

Some works have been added in response to suggestions from reviewers of the last edition. They are not intended to provide complete coverage, but rather to serve as points of departure, whether because they are from a period or genre that has gained currency since the last edition, because their obscurity raises issues of canonicity and value, or because their treatment of a theme is insistently pursued by generations of teachers. Still, other works have been added to offer considerably more substantial treatment of a theme that recurred in the previous edition.

The anthology arranges authors in a sequence that aims to draw attention to the central currents of the age. The editors provide a guide to periods of English literary history, and they specify an important aspect of the principal currents of the age. Again, the English literary history sections and the headnotes, together with the general introductions to the volume and to the individual works, can elaborate on this attention to period. The introductions to individual works give particular attention to issues raised by prior anthologies.

4. Themes and Literary Techniques Across Different Eras

The theme of society and the ordinary, and some refined silliness, endures through the Renaissance and the Restoration Age with very little change. In the 18th century, Defoe creates a human narrative in a business-oriented scenario and highlights the greed and ambition of humanity. The theme of dominance continues strong and ugly throughout the hidden industrial revolution, causing havoc on social behavior and literary output. 19th-century writers use a few more themes to highlight creature comforts and physical appearances. The human being is called carrot and stick, sensual, and ephemeral, and the inexorable progress of science will destroy the world. The final answer? Embrace and accept the inevitability of modern values and desires while exercising human judgment. The results? Stories about weathercocks, temptation and envy, and a beginning that ends in our beginning. Hardly a beginning, the end.

After identifying and analyzing the mood, tone, and message of a work, the next step is to search for themes that link the piece with other works in a particular period, genre, or masters of the craft. The Greeks called these time-tested themes “topoi,” and the different epochs of English literature are bound by a few themes that have remained constant. The 15th century saw the genesis of the melodramatic theme of sameness in humans – the bestial and the divine that lifts humanity to peaks and reduces them to moral ruins. To support the theme, the authors used a variety of literary techniques. In Everyman, for example, the writer uses allegory to convey what society needs to do in order to go to heaven. Chaucer uses the litany of travelers to carry across his social concerns. The writers use sin, temptation, penance, heavenly grace, and divine revelation to espouse their themes. Sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? As if time got stuck in the medieval mud.

5. The Influence and Impact of The Norton Anthology on the Study of English Literature

As becomes evident from what precedes, the editing of the Norton Anthology of English Poetry is a vast intellectual enterprise. My predecessor, Richard Ellmann, was a great one for detailed description, so I shall try to give a brief synopsis of the whole endeavor. The second edition of the Anthology contains ninety-four poems not included in the first edition, of which around twenty are anonymous. Among these anonymous poems are two major and six minor pieces from the beginning of our English literature, a group of five poems by a Scottish James I written in the 1420s and not exactly poetry, and ten cantos of an unfinished epic by a Lt. Col. Christopher Smart. But the lion’s share of the growth in space was taken up with the minor poetry of the major poets, particularly Blake, Milton, and Wordsworth, and the lion’s share of these minor poets were in fact included in the first edition of the anthology.

To be the editor of the Norton Anthology of English Poetry is to be both a linguist and a poet. The linguistic demands are quite distinct from those made by an anthology of American literature. The earliest writing in English was rendered during the Dark Ages, before any standard spelling system was established. And the language of “the dawn song” (at 384 lines, that earliest poem is also one of the longest) shows, predictably, the heavy mark of Germanic structures, with long compound words headed by independent nouns. Yet in the next poem included, we find an Early English that does not tolerate concatenation, but demands strict adherence to the five accents per line that mark the whole Old English corpus. Another thousand years later, at the other end of this 1,200-year illuminating effort, we get the un-English CXX of Thomas Wyatt, set to fourteen rhymed iambic pentameters.

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