Before the 1760s -- with the major exception of Chaucer -- nearly all of Middle English literature lay undiscovered and ignored. Because established scholars regarded later medieval literature as primitive and barbaric, the study of this rich literary heritage was relegated to antiquarians and dilettantes. In The Making of Middle English, 1765-1910, David Matthews chronicles the gradual rediscovery of this literature and the formation of Middle English as a scholarly pursuit.Matthews details how the careers, class positions, and ambitions of only a few men gave shape and direction to the discipline. Mostly from the lower middle class, they worked in the church or in law and hoped to exploit medieval literature for financial success and social advancement. Where Middle English was concerned, Matthews notes, these scholars were self-taught, and their amateurism came at the price of inaccurately edited and often deliberately "improved" texts intended for a general public that sought appealing, rather than authentic, reading material.This study emphasizes the material history of the discipline, examining individual books and analyzing introductions, notes, glossaries, promotional materials, lists of subscribers, and owners' annotations to assess the changing methodological approaches of the scholars and the shifts in readership. Matthews explores the influence of aristocratic patronage and the societies formed to further the editing and publication of texts. And he examines the ideological uses of Middle English and the often contentious debates between these scholars and organizations about the definition of Englishness itself.A thorough work of scholarship, The Making of MiddleEnglish presents for the first time a detailed account of the formative phase of Middle English studies and provides new perspectives on the emergence of medieval studies, canon formation, the politics of editing, and the history of the book.
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(229mm x 148mm x 22mm)
University of Minnesota Press
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
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