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Literary Landscapes and the Idea of England, 700-1400

Literary Landscapes and the Idea of England, 700-1400

Catherine A.M. Clarke
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 172
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  • Book Info
    Literary Landscapes and the Idea of England, 700-1400
    Book Description:

    In its exploration of literary representations of ideal landscapes and the production of English identity across Latin and vernacular texts from Bede to Chaucer, this study looks in particular at pastoral and ‘locus amoenus’ traditions in Medieval English literature, and the early mythologisation of English landscape, space and identity through pastoral topoi. From Bede's ‘Ecclesiastical History’ and its seminal interpretation of Britain as the delightful island, the study moves through representations of landscape in Old English poetry to the exploitation of the symbolic potential of their local landscapes by regional monastic houses in twelfth- and thirteenth-century texts and pastoral conventions, performances and the idea of the city in the fourteenth century. Introductory and concluding sections form bridges to current scholarship on representations of Englishness through pastoral topoi in the Early Modern period. Catherine A.M. Clarke is Professor of English, University of Southampton.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-485-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    These lines, from John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard II, represent one of the most enduring and emotive visions of England in literature. Already in 1600, they were included in Robert Allott’s anthology Englands Parnassus,² and they continue to resonate in modern English political rhetoric, historiography and popular culture. The image of the paradisal, pastoral island re-surfaces in texts from Marvell’s ‘Upon Appleton House’ to Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ and Winston Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples. As in Richard II itself, the image is often used in dialectic with perceived contemporary betrayal or corruption of England’s Edenic nature. Yet the powerful...

  6. 1 The Edenic Island
    (pp. 7-35)

    Bede’s Ecclesiastical History is in many ways the obvious place to begin a study of symbolic landscapes and the idea of England in medieval English literature. The opening description of Britannia announces the potent image of the idealised, Edenic island, and forms a primary source or perceived point of origin to which many later medieval texts – and even modern scholars – allude. Bede’s representation of the Edenic island is hugely influential for the production of English identity in the medieval period and beyond, yet this iconic description is itself complicated and problematic. Far from being a true point of...

  7. 2 Re-making the locus amoenus in Anglo-Saxon England
    (pp. 36-66)

    The possibility of a literary pastoral tradition in the early English vernacular has received little critical attention, and has often been explicitly denied. The locus amoenus or conventional delightful landscape has generally been perceived primarily as a feature of Latin literary tradition, and critical assumptions about the difference or otherness of the English vernacular have perpetuated this view. Critical discussion of landscape imagery in Old English is often based upon a distinction between Latin and vernacular traditions, as well as a perceived contrast between poetic traditions of ‘Saxon’ and ‘Celtic’ origin. In Landscapes and Seasons of the Medieval World, Derek...

  8. 3 Local Landscapes as Mirrors for England
    (pp. 67-89)

    In the new political and cultural context of Anglo-Norman England, regional centres re-negotiate power systems and hierarchies and re-assert their claims to a place at the heart of notions of English identity, culture and power. This chapter will explore the ways in which the literature produced by regional monastic houses in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries represents local landscape as locus amoenus and mirror for the nation as a whole. Through these literary strategies, regional monastic houses claim a powerful role in the fashioning of national identity.

    Thorlac Turville-Petre’s study, England the Nation, offers an exploration of the relationships between...

  9. 4 The Delightful City
    (pp. 90-129)

    The ‘absent city’ of later medieval English literature is now a critical commonplace. In his well-known study on Chaucer, David Wallace argues that

    There is no idea of a city for all the inhabitants of London to pay allegiance to; there are only conflicts of associational, hierarchical, and anti-associational discourses, acted out within or across the boundaries of a city wall or the fragments of a text called The Canterbury Tales

    The city is a key symbolic space or landscape in medieval English literary tradition, its walled structure forming an equivalent to the order, beauty and symbolism of the enclosed...

  10. Epilogue: Disruptions and Continuities
    (pp. 130-140)

    This study has traced continuities and traditions through medieval English literary representations of ideal, symbolic landscapes and their association with ideas of England. Certain images have emerged as central: the Edenic island with its perfect enclosure, the green pastoral landscape and its paradisal resonances, and the potentially symbolic space of the city as a parallel locus amoenus. Particular ideologies and literary strategies have also emerged repeatedly in the periods and texts examined by the study. Through descriptions of English landscapes in terms which recall Eden, Paradise or the Promised Land (or the cities of Jerusalem, Rome or Troy), England appropriates...

  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 141-152)
  12. Index
    (pp. 153-160)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 161-161)