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The Making of Middle English, 1765-1910

1999
Author:

David Matthews

The Making of Middle English, 1765-1910

A comprehensive account of the formation of Middle English as a scholarly discipline.

Before the 1760s-with the major exception of Chaucer-nearly all of Middle English literature lay undiscovered and ignored. 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, presenting 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.

Matthew’s history, detailed yet readable, compact and yet far-reaching, clarifies, explicates, and illuminates fundamental turning points in medieval English studies. The book does a wonderful job of combining biography and criticism-not of literature, but of literary history.

Allen Frantzen, author of Before the Closet : Same-Sex Love from Beowulf to Angels in America

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 scholars gave shape and direction to the discipline. Mostly from the lower middle class, they worked in the church or 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 Middle English 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.


ISBN 0-8166-3185-9 Cloth/jacket £00.00 $39.95x
272 Pages 7 black-and-white photos 5 7/8 x 9 May
Medieval Cultures Series, volume 18
Translation inquiries: University of Minnesota Press

The Making of Middle English, 1765-1910

David Matthews is lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

The Making of Middle English, 1765-1910

Matthew’s history, detailed yet readable, compact and yet far-reaching, clarifies, explicates, and illuminates fundamental turning points in medieval English studies. The book does a wonderful job of combining biography and criticism-not of literature, but of literary history.

Allen Frantzen, author of Before the Closet : Same-Sex Love from Beowulf to Angels in America

The Making of Middle English will prove interesting to all those involved in the study of Middle English and of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literary culture.

Andrew Elfenbein, University of Minnesota

Matthews offers a healthy reminder that we should not overlook the scholars and the scholarship of the past lest in our own convictions of superior wisdom we neglect an interesting and useful source of study.

Criticism

Matthews compellingly reconstructs the personal and political agendas that produced Middle English as an academic subject….[A] bracing and convincing examination…this is gripping and rewarding reading.

Speculum

[An] excellent history of the emergence of Middle English studies in Britain. Matthews’s book is a work of careful scholarship, drawing adroitly on material-especially correspondence-at the Houghton and Huntington libraries as well as the British repositories. His book will reward readers with interest in broad themes of intellectual as well as literary and linguistic history.

Victorian Studies

A welcome addition to a growing body of disciplinary self-historicizing. Its researches are wide-ranging, bringing to light a whole range of critical materials long buried in the archives.

Envoi

A major contribution to the historiography of medieval studies...a fascinating piece of empirical research.

Parergon

The Making of Middle English offers us a kind of history-making and an admission of self-scrutiny from which to begin the necesary and always provisional process of evaluation. David Matthews’s book makes Middle English real.

UTS Review

Satisfying and thought-provoking.

English Studies

...As a study of the changing methodological approaches of medieval scholars and the ideological forces governing their practices, this book excels...interestingly suggestive of a different narrative of the development of literature and scholarship in the eighteenth century from the one which sees these as progressing towards greater democracy and autonomy, away from the dependence on aristocratic patronage of previous centuries.

The Age of Johnson

[A] fine and well-written study...Matthews encourages a critical circumspection...in the end he demonstrates that he is acutely aware that history is made by the historian’s gaze.

Huntington Library Quarterly