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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  September 2008

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION September 2008

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Subject:

Fw: TMR 08.09.16 Alexander, Medievalism (Demoor)

From:

Ms B M Cook <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 18 Sep 2008 00:15:44 +0100

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text/plain

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

We had a thread about "Medievalism" a while back. I bought this book after
hearing Michael Alexander give a BRILLIANT paper at Leeds 2007. Totally in
command of his material and of the English Language. Would heartily endorse
this reviewer's opinion.


----- Original Message -----
From: "The Medieval Review" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>; <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2008 4:03 PM
Subject: TMR 08.09.16 Alexander, Medievalism (Demoor)


> Alexander, Michael. <i>Medievalism. The Middle Ages in Modern
> England</i>. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007. Pp.
> xxviii, 306. $45.00. ISBN: 0300110618, ISBN-13: 9780300110616.
>
> Reviewed by Marysa Demoor
> Ghent University, Belgium
> [log in to unmask]
>
>
> This is one of the best, most informative, most lucidly written
> histories of English literature which I have ever read. It is a
> fascinating read for both the general public with an interest in
> British culture and the more specialised readership of literary
> scholars and historians.
>
> Michael Alexander is no novice in the trade of literary history
> writing since he authored the well-known <i>A History of English
> Literature</i>, published by Palgrave in 2000. Add to that the fact
> that he is a first-class medieval scholar and one has to come to
> the conclusion that no one was possibly better placed than he to
> analyse the phenomenon of medievalism, in all its manifestations,
> from its emergence in the late eighteenth century until well into
> the twentieth. Alexander claims he takes the story of medievalism
> up to the present day but the focus of the book is firmly on the
> use and influence of medieval material in the long nineteenth
> century as the pictures on the dust jacket, with Walter Scott's
> impressive entrance hall on the front of the dust jacket and
> Tennyson's "Mariana" as painted by Millais on the back, indicate.
>
> Alexander starts his story by inquiring into the early definitions
> of and associations with medievalism; he explains the origins and
> emergence of the term itself since apparently it had to replace the
> term Gothic which had acquired some negative connotations. He then
> explores the growing taste for the medieval in the eighteenth
> century. First he posits the centrality of Thomas Percy's
> <i>Reliques of Ancient English Poetry</i> (1765) at a time when the
> thirst for all things medieval could hardly be quenched and readers
> willingly suspended disbelief when they were presented with the
> work of a fourth-century poet called Ossian. Percy "improved" the
> selected texts for his <i>Reliques</i> to such an extent that they
> became readable again and successfully overcame the prejudices his
> contemporaries harboured against what they called "gothic." Percy's
> deliberate rejection of the Neo-classical attitude towards the
> original text again allowed for the appreciation of authors whose
> work did not live up to neo-classical standards: "the outbreak of
> medievalism in the 1760s was in part simply the result of the
> melting away of the prestige attached by neo-classical literary
> theory to notions of correctitude. The collapse of standards
> allowed readers encountering newly discovered writing from earlier
> English literary history to follow their native instincts." Thus it
> was, for instance, that Shakespeare's "discordant mixture of comedy
> and tragedy" was successfully re-introduced.
>
> The popularity of Percy's <i>Reliques</i> combined with a curiosity
> about chivalry prepared the ground for the man whose work is key to
> this study: Sir Walter Scott. Alexander convincingly argues that
> Scott's reputation at the beginning of the nineteenth century was
> so extraordinary that his memory was honoured by the highest
> monument an author was ever given. Scott, Alexander tells us, told
> stories in verse and in prose. It was his <i>Lay of the Last
> Minstrel</i>, <i>Ivanhoe</i> and "their progeny" (111) that
> subsequently led to the medieval revival in the Victorian age
> ranging from neo-Gothic buildings to paintings, furniture and
> stained-glass windows. In the world of books, after Scott's death,
> it is the young Alfred Tennyson who takes up the medieval torch
> from there.
>
> Alexander now moves onto fairly predictable ground with Tennyson's
> influence on the Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets and art critics
> such as John Ruskin. But he surprises again when turning for
> instance to the work of Gerald Manley Hopkins and inevitably he
> adds his own interesting and unusual insights. "Those who turned
> from aestheticism to decadence" he avers on p. 209, "often turned
> also from medievalism to Catholicism."
>
> With Hopkins then we are only one step away from the modernist
> generation. The work of Jerome McGann has amply demonstrated how
> much the modernist artists such as Pound were influenced by
> medieval art and artist. At the beginning of the twentieth century
> there was a popular awareness of the medieval past, Alexander
> points out, which made a second Medieval Revival possible. Indeed,
> he believes Ezra Pound and W.B. Yeats to be the main poets who
> continued the movement; but there were others whose medievalist
> creations are popular even now. With the film adaptations of J.R.R.
> Tolkien and C.S. Lewis he has landed in the twentieth century and
> proven that the fascination with all things medieval is still very
> much alive.
>
> This book is a pleasure to read. The author's wealth of knowledge,
> visually illustrated by means of more than a hundred aptly chosen
> often unknown documents and paintings is compacted in just 289
> pages (without the index). My only regret in respect to the
> illustrations would be that the reproductions of the paintings do
> not show the frames which for medieval artists as well as for those
> painters inspired by the age carried so much meaning. Alexander has
> the unusual talent of carrying his erudition lightly: his research
> results are contextualised as well as humanised by the odd, amusing
> anecdote. Thus while Walter Scott's pioneering and influential role
> in the popularity of medievalism is convincingly, repeatedly and
> seriously argued, Scott is also presented as the obsessive
> collector of precious artefacts. Then follows the anecdote: Scott
> is said the have stage-managed the first visit of George IV to
> Edinburgh in all its details, but after the King had drunk a
> whisky, Scott managed to take the glass with him, hidden in the
> tail-pocket of his coat. Only, Alexander then remarks laconically,
> Scott sat upon it.
>


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