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Anglo-Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination

Edited by David Clark & Nicholas Perkins

Britain’s pre-Conquest past and its culture continues to fascinate modern writers and artists. From Henry Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Reader to Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, and from high modernism to the muscle bound heroes of comic book and Hollywood, Anglo-Saxon England has been a powerful and often unexpected source of inspiration, antagonism, and reflection. The essays here engage with the ways in which the Anglo-Saxons and their literature have been received, confronted, and re-envisioned in the modern imagination. They offer fresh insights on established figures, such as W.H. Auden, J.R.R. Tolkien, and David Jones, and on contemporary writers such as Geoffrey Hill, Peter Reading, P.D. James, and Heaney. They explore the interaction between text, image and landscape in medieval and modern books, the recasting of mythic figures such as Wayland Smith, and the metamorphosis of Beowulf into Grendel – as a novel and as grand opera. The early medieval emerges not simply as a site of nostalgia or anxiety in modern revisions, but instead provides a vital arena for creativity, pleasure, and artistic experiment.


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  From Heorot to Hollywood: Beowulf in its Third Millennium
  • 3  Priming the Poets: the Making of Henry Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Reader
  • 4  Owed to Both Sides: W.H. Auden’s Double Debt to the Literature of the North
  • 5  Writing for an Anglo-Saxon Audience in the Twentieth Century: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Old English Chronicles
  • 6  ‘Wounded men and wounded trees’: David Jones and the Anglo-Saxon Culture Tangle
  • 7  Basil Bunting, Briggflatts, Lindisfarne, and Anglo-Saxon Interlace
  • 8  BOOM: Seeing Beowulf in Pictures and Print
  • 9  Window in the Wall: Looking for Grand Opera in John Gardner’s Grendel
  • 10  Re-placing Masculinity: The DC Comics Beowulf Series and its Context, 1975-6
  • 11  P.D. James Reads Beowulf
  • 12  Ban Welondes: Wayland Smith in Popular Culture
  • 13  ‘Overlord of the M5’: The Superlative Structure of Sovereignty in Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns
  • 14  The Absent Anglo-Saxon Past in Ted Hughes’s Elmet
  • 15  Resurrecting Saxon Things: Peter Reading, ‘species decline’, and Old English Poetry


First Published: 21 Oct 2010
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843842514
Pages: 302
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: D.S.Brewer

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