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Vernacular literary activity in twelfth-century England : redressing the balance

Abstract : English literary historians of the twelfth century have traditionally viewed the period as one in which literary activity is directed almost exclusively towards preserving the achievements of the past : the sermon output of Abbot Aelfric, some of the translations associated with Alfred of Wessex and his circle, the law codes, etc. It is, it is argued, this continued preoccupation with the vernacular that allows for the emergence of a new and vigorous upsurge of composition in English from the early decades of the thirteenth-century onwards, a period which producted the prose texts known collectively as the Katherine Group, together with the related Ancrene Wisse (C. 1225). The most immediate consequence of this approach has been to consider the twelfth century proper as something of a transitional period whose major importance is confined to the survival of English, thus allowing the smooth resumption of literary creativity of the high order after the splendours of the Anglo-Saxon past. However, a somewhat different perspective emerges when what little fresh composition from the twelfth-century is given due consideration. The only substantial text to fit that description is a versified gospel harmony with extensive exegesis known as the Ormulum (after its author, Orm). Through an examination of its salient features I shall endeavour to show that some of the assumptions routinely made about this century of transition, as it may be termed, are in need of revision.
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Submitted on : Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 2:43:28 PM
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Stephen Morrison. Vernacular literary activity in twelfth-century England : redressing the balance. Actes de colloque, May 2002, Poitiers, France. pp.253-267. ⟨halshs-00615249⟩



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