The Oxford English Literary History: Volume 2: 1350-1547: Reform and Cultural Revolution

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9780198182610: The Oxford English Literary History: Volume 2: 1350-1547: Reform and Cultural Revolution

The Oxford English Literary History is the new century's definitive account of a rich and diverse literary heritage that stretches back for a millennium and more.

Each of these groundbreaking volumes offers a leading scholar's considered assessment of the authors, works, cultural traditions, events, and ideas that shaped the literary voices of their age. The series will enlighten and inspire not only everyone studying, teaching, and researching in English Literature, but all serious readers.

Overstepping traditional period divisions, this volume in the new Oxford English Literary History runs from 1350 to the death of Henry VIII. It thus spans the extraordinary burst of English literary writing in the reign of Richard II; powerful phases of fifteenth-century literature; and the cultural revolution provoked by the split with Rome. Although potent traditions praise both the "Reformation" and "Renaissance" as liberating movements, this book argues the reverse. Sixteenth-century centralization instead narrowed possibilities enjoyed by late medieval writers, whose work was energized by generic and stylistic diversity.

From roughly 1350 a wide range of literary kinds flourished, in a wide range of dialects. Many of these texts can be described as a mixed commonwealth of styles and genres, such as Langland's Piers Plowman, Gower's Confessio Amantis, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the dramatic "mystery" cycles, and Malory's works. In the sixteenth century that stylistic variety gave way to a literary practice that prized coherence and unity above all. Some kinds of writing, especially romance, survived the cultural revolution. Others, such as Langland's attempt to reform the Church, the broadbased politics of Gower and Hoccleve, and the feminine visionary mode of Julian of Norwich, became untenable. For all its finely tuned classicism or Protestant energy, sixteenth-century writing--by figures such as Wyatt, Surrey, and the dramatist John Bale--emerges as the product of profoundly divided writers, torn between their commitment to the new order and their awareness of its painful, often destructive constraints.

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About the Author:


James Simpson is Professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University.
Jonathan Bate (General Editor) is King Alfred Professor of English Literature, University of Liverpool. His books include Shakespeare and Ovid, The Genius of Shakespeare, and The Cure for Love.

Review:


"The new Oxford English Literary History series [is] destined to become a standard academic source.... Advanced undergraduates will join lifelong learners in praising these volumes as sources of renewed and renewable literary energy."--The Providence Journal


"A bold, bravura performance, and an important book.... Simpson can write with equal brilliance across both the secular and the religious.... Simpson writes so well and discriminatingly that Reform and Cultural Revolution is a pleasure to read."--Times Literary Supplement


"Surveys of literary history rarely break new ground.... But the second volume in the successor series to the venerable Oxford History of English Literature will snap some scholarly heads back.... If you think of the English 15th century as a dull slough between brilliant Chaucer and brilliant rebirth, read this book and think again."--Virginia Quarterly Review


"Designed to challenge traditional period designations, this volume is one of the few literary histories that moves from Chaucer and William Langland through the death of Henry VIII. Much is gained in this redrawing of the borders.... The volume, moreover, proves to be one of the most satisfying sustained discussions of the potential liabilities and continuing usefulness of the terms 'medieval' and 'early modern'.... The book includes powerful readings of major and minor figures, and organizes its mass of materials in ways that are at once conceptually meaningful and pragmatically useful."--Studies in English Literature 1500-1900


"The second volume of the Oxford English Literary History brilliantly covers 1350-1547, to the death of Henry VIII. It will be standard."--Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance


"[An] excellent and challenging book.... Reform and Cultural Revolution will fundamentally alter our understanding of what distinguishes the two periods [of Medieval and Renaissance]."--Speculum


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