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FW: TMR 99.01.09, Frantzen and Niles, eds., Anglo-Saxonism (Estes)

Poster: "Garrett, William" <WGarrett@sierrahealth.com>

> Allen J. Frantzen and John D. Niles, eds., <i>Anglo-Saxonism 
> and the Construction of Social Identity </i>.  Gainesville: 
> University Press of Florida, 1997.  Pp. 242.  $49.95.  ISBN 
> 0813015324.
>    Reviewed by Heide Estes
>         Monmouth University
>         hestes@hawkmail.monmouth.edu
> <i>Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity</i> 
> is a collection of essays rather loosely linked around Anglo-
> Saxon England and the reception of its culture, history, and 
> literature.  Part I, "Medieval and Renaissance Anglo-Saxonism," 
> contains two essays that examine the process by which Anglo-
> Saxon writers themselves developed an idea of what it meant to 
> be English, and two more that investigate the development of 
> ideological constructions of Anglo-Saxon England during the 
> Renaissance.  Part II, "Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century 
> Anglo-Saxonism," includes several essays on post-Renaissance 
> appropriations of Anglo-Saxon history and literature in the 
> service of various ideologies.  In their introduction to the 
> book, Frantzen and Niles define "Anglo-Saxonism" as "he process 
> through which a self-conscious national and racial identity 
> first came into being among the early peoples of the region and 
> how, over time, through both scholarly and popular promptings, 
> that identity has transformed into an originary myth available 
> to a wide variety of political and social interests." (1)
> The series of papers that constitute this collection do not 
> attempt a continuous history of constructions of Anglo-
> Saxonism.  Instead, they provide snapshots of the development 
> and appropriation of Anglo-Saxon ideologies from the Anglo-
> Saxon period itself through the twentieth century, in England, 
> the United States, and Scandinavia.  The varied geographical 
> and temporal range of the essay makes reading them in sequence 
> quite disjointed:  while the introduction to the volume gives a 
> brief summary of each essay, it provides no overview of the 
> subject, and no clear idea of how the essays in the volume 
> interact or otherwise fit together.  However, Niles' essay, 
> which is printed last in the collection, undertakes a survey of 
> "Anglo-Saxonism" that  links together and gives context to the 
> remaining essays.  It is unfortunate that Niles' essay is 
> buried as the last essay in Part II of the collection; the 
> essay does not fit well under the heading of the second part, 
> and would serve well as an introduction to the collection.  I 
> begin, then, by considering this essay.
> Niles' delightfully witty essay, "Appropriations: A Concept of 
> Culture," provides an overview of the development of "Anglo-
> Saxonism" in the form of a projected outline for a book which, 
> he insists, could never be written.  Such a book, as he 
> imagines it, would begin with "Anglo-Saxon Self-Fashioning," 
> would next describe the Norman project of "effacing Anglo-Saxon 
> England as a separate ethnic, cultural, or geopolitical 
> entity," and would continue by tracing the invention and 
> development of ideologies about Anglo-Saxon England from the 
> Renaissance through the present, with a concluding chapter on 
> academic projections of Anglo-Saxon England (210-211).  Niles' 
> self-mocking survey accomplishes two things for the rest of the 
> collection, however.  First, it clarifies the logic of dividing 
> the book into two parts, one dealing with the Anglo-Saxon 
> period and the Renaissance, and the other with post-Renaissance 
> Anglo-Saxonisms.  In the terms of Niles' chapter outline, both 
> the Anglo-Saxon period and the Renaissance are periods of 
> invention:  in the earlier period, the Anglo-Saxons themselves 
> created the notion of what it meant to be English, while 
> antiquarians of the Renaissance developed the idea of Anglo-
> Saxon England as an originary past in support of nationalist 
> agendas.  In this schema, then, post-Renaissance Anglo-
> Saxonisms appropriate and transform the original work of the 
> earlier periods rather than cooking up new ideologies from 
> scratch.  Second, Niles' outline locates the individual essays 
> in the collection along chronological and geographical 
> trajectories, thus suggesting links among the essays and 
> providing a sense of continuity for the collection as a whole.
> More importantly, Niles articulates a philosophy of history 
> that seems shared, implicitly or explicitly, by the authors of 
> the book's individual essays and that, like his overview, 
> emphasizes the conceptual links among them rather than the 
> discontinuities of time and place.  (I should note here that 
> Niles demurs at calling this philosophy a "theory," insisting 
> that it is instead "a tool for understanding the mechanisms by 
> which culture is produced.  Theories are always with us; tools 
> can be used for a specific task, then set aside for a while" 
> [223 n. 9].)  Niles defines a "concept of cultural processes" 
> as distinct from the notions of cultural change normally 
> accepted by sociologists and anthropologists.  These scholars, 
> he writes, tend to view cultural changes as "impersonal 
> processes" generally separate from any possibility of human 
> agency.   "Not many scholars in these fields approach culture 
> systematically, focusing on large anonymous processes as well 
> as on singular events and achievements." (205)  Niles argues to 
> the contrary that cultural change results from the deliberate 
> action of individual humans, though they "often lack full 
> understanding of those large movements in which their volition 
> or employment plays a part." (224 n. 10)  "From the perspective 
> advocated here, culture is chiefly produced through a complex 
> series of purposeful appropriations either of the past or of 
> someone's present property (whether material, linguistic, or 
> intellectual in nature)." (205)
> Furthermore, these appropriations do not reach back to an 
> actual historical pastand in fact Niles suggests that actual 
> "history" is unrecoverable: for Niles, historical enterprise 
> involves not gathering facts, but developing interpretations.  
> Niles refers to the term "Anglo-Saxon England" as a "creation 
> of language" literally a figure of speech, one that has lent 
> the concept that it denotes the semblance of solidity thanks to 
> centuries of reiterated use. (208-209)  He further argues, 
> "[t]he main question that is worth asking about any historical 
> claim is not 'Is it true?' but rather 'What does it mean?'" 
> (220)  For Niles, the study of the past allows us an awareness 
> "of our own place amidst the discontinuities and effacements 
> that form the greater part of history." (221)
> Niles' insistence on the mutagenicity of historical 
> reconstruction will, of course, irritate some readers.  (Im 
> not one of them.)  Niles insists, "Anglo-Saxon England is an 
> idea, not a thing." (209)  From the point of view of the essays 
> in the book which examine post-Medieval appropriations of 
> Anglo-Saxon culture and history, it's hard to argue with this 
> statement.  Even from the perspective of the two essays in the 
> collection that examine the formation of identity within Anglo-
> Saxon England, however, Niles is correct in that we can't 
> observe that 'thing' that was Anglo-Saxon England: we can only 
> observe our own reconstructions of it.
> Instead of following the sequence of the volume, I will 
> consider the remaining essays in roughly chronological 
> sequence, beginning with those that discuss the construction of 
> an "English" identity within Anglo-Saxon England and continuing 
> on to those that examine later constructions of Anglo-Saxon 
> England, in the Renaissance and beyond.
> The essays by Mary P. Richards, "Anglo-Saxonism in the Old 
> English Laws," and Janet Thormann, "The <i>Anglo-Saxon 
> Chronicle</i> poems and the Making of the English Nation," 
> focus on laws and historical poems as cultural achievements 
> through which the Anglo-Saxons articulated ideas of English 
> identity.  Richards argues that the development of a legal 
> language, and the repetition of many elements each time a new 
> code of laws was written, "conveyed a bond of Anglo-Saxonism."  
> (43)  She elaborates the "close connection between Christianity 
> and the issuance of legal codes" (41), discusses laws that 
> define what it means to be an outsider (47), and comments on 
> the proliferation of laws that protect property (53).  The laws 
> thus define English people as Christian inhabitants of a 
> particular land area.  Similarly, Thormann argues that "the 
> writing of the <i>Chronicle</i> produces the idea of a nation, 
> an Anglo-Saxon England that may legitimately lay claim to 
> power." (60)   According to Thormann, the idea of an "English 
> nation" is first articulated in the tenth century, "when 
> reference to an Anglo-Saxon England comes to supersede 
> references to territorial kingdoms and peoples." (63)  Like the 
> laws, the <i>Chronicle</i> poems link Anglo-Saxon identity 
> explicitly to Christianity: "Providential design [in 'The Death 
> of Edgar'] provides a law that supersedes the 
> <i>Chronicle</i>'s grammar of contiguity, connecting and 
> relating individual events in a discursive logic.  At the same 
> time, providential design serves an ideology supporting West-
> Saxon ambitions." (77)
> In these essays, Richards and Thormann argue (implicitly) for a 
> singular English identity, centered specifically on males' 
> experience of the English community.  Richards does not as a 
> rule specify a particular gender as likely to violate the laws 
> she catalogues, but some of these do seem to imply male 
> miscreants: for example, "fighting in the king's house" and 
> marauding. (46)  Conversely, Richards mentions no crime that 
> seems specific to women.  She mentions only males as creators 
> and promulgators of law, and while she comments that "crime and 
> punishment [are] segmented by the class of the accused victim" 
> (46), she makes no reference to differences before the law 
> based on gender or lack thereof.  This is a puzzling omission 
> since she is the co-author of an essay on the treatment of 
> women in the laws (Mary P. Richards and B. Jane Stanfield, 
> "Concepts of Anglo-Saxon Women in the Laws," in Helen Damico 
> and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen, eds., <i>New Readings on Women 
> in Old English Literature</i> [Bloomington: Indiana University 
> Press, 1990]).  Here, however, she treats English society as if 
> it were entirely monolithic.  Thormann likewise argues for the 
> production of "the idea of a nation" (60) through the 
> historical poems of the <i>Anglo-Saxon Chronicle</i> without 
> seeming to notice that all of the actors participating in this 
> production are males.  Women are, it is implied, either 
> subordinated to or excluded from the national identity 
> developed in the poems of the <i>Chronicle</i>.
> I return now to the first essay in the collection, by Allen 
> Frantzen on "Bede and Bawdy Bale: Gregory the Great, Angels, 
> and the 'Angli.'"  Frantzen's essay revolves around the scene 
> in Bede's <i>Ecclesiastical History of the English People</i> 
> in which the future pope Gregory the Great, walking through 
> Rome, notices pale-skinned blond boys being sold at a 
> marketplace, asks about their origin, and puns on the names of 
> their tribe and their king.  Frantzen dwells at length on the 
> textual history of this anecdote, a version of whichunknown to 
> Bede appears in an English Life of Gregory completed shortly 
> before the <i>Ecclesiastical History</i>.  According to 
> Frantzen, modern scholars are divided as to the significance of 
> the episode: some historians ignore it while others devote 
> considerable attention to it.  Moreover, "[i]n introductory 
> grammars and readers, reliable measures of the cultural value 
> attached to Old English narratives, references to this event 
> are rare." (19)   Frantzen's argument in this first part of the 
> essay is both fascinating and frustrating in its 
> suggestiveness: he implies rather than arguing outright that 
> there is a sexual subtext to Gregory's interest in the boys.  
> He acknowledges that "[w]e would not, for many reasons, expect 
> Bede to comment on the sexual implications of Gregory's 
> admiration of the beautiful boys in any negative way.  Some 
> seven hundred years after Bede's death, that task fell to John 
> Bale." (25)
> The Rev. John Bale, a convert from Roman Catholicism, wrote 
> numerous propagandistic Protestant tracts, among them <i>The 
> Actes of Englysh Votaryes</i>, in which he "portray[s]...the 
> history of the Roman clergy in England [as] a steamy catalogue 
> of the sexual excess of licentious men denied the right to 
> marry" (25), among them an account of Gregory's interest in the 
> English boys.  "We are meant to conclude that Gregory, deprived 
> of a wife by the Church's demand for clerical celibacy, sought 
> out 'other spirytuall remedyes' by purchasing boys for sex." 
> (26)  From Bale's "queering" of the episode, Frantzen returns 
> to Bede, arguing that his lack of concern for the possibility 
> of sexual exploitation in the sale of the boys is a "lapse" 
> which is "curious" (31).  Frantzen notes the frequent attention 
> in penitential handbooks and monastic rules to such "sins as 
> sodomy and mutual masturbation" (31) and argues that Bede, who 
> was sent to a monastery at the age of seven, would have been 
> involved in such a "discourse of sexualization." (31)
> Frantzen's attempt to problematize Bede's lack of attention to 
> the beautiful boys' sexuality is less persuasive than his 
> reading of Bale. However, the essay complicates the issue of 
> "Anglo-Saxonism" in very interesting ways.  Frantzen shows Bale 
> using "Anglo-Saxonism" to support a religious agenda of 
> opposition to the Roman Catholic church while simultaneously 
> fostering a particular ideology of sex and gender identity.  In 
> <i>Desire for Origins</i>, Frantzen argued that "Orientalism 
> and 'Anglo-Saxonism' intersect at many points" (<i>Desire for 
> Origins</i> 29).  In his new essay in this collection, Frantzen 
> shows the deployment of "Anglo-Saxonism" to be even more 
> complicated, suggesting the multiplicity of uses to which it 
> has been put as described in the subsequent essays in the book.
> Suzanne Hagedorn's essay, "Received Wisdom: the Reception 
> History of Alfred's Preface to the <i>Pastoral Care</i>," 
> traces the use of Anglo-Saxonism, and particularly the figure 
> of Alfred, from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century.  
> Her essay focuses on the textual history of editions of 
> Alfred's <i>Preface</i> as a window into the cultural 
> phenomenon of Anglo-Saxonism.  "By tracing the material forms 
> and the circumstances in which this single text has been 
> presented to various communities of readers over the centuries, 
> we may be able to see in microcosm the larger cultural forces 
> that have informed the discipline of Anglo-Saxon studies as a 
> whole." (87)  According to Hagedorn, Matthew Parker, Archbishop 
> of Canterbury under Queen Elizabeth, published and translated a 
> number of Anglo-Saxon texts, including Alfred's <i>Preface</i>, 
> and then "directly or indirectly" invoked these texts "to 
> provide a venerable precedent for the archbishop's own biblical 
> translation project." (89)  In the next century, Sir John 
> Spelman appended to his biography of Alfred a translation of 
> the <i>Preface</i> "as evidence of Alfred's spirituality." (93)  
> Hagedorn argues that "the patriotic context provided for the 
> preface by Spelman's biography is as important as the 
> translation itself.  [F]or close to two centuries his work was 
> considered the authoritative biography of the king, and as such 
> it provided a historical basis for the glorification of Alfred 
> and his reign in the popular imagination." (94)  Later editors 
> in England and the United States, according to Hagedorn, 
> continue to use Alfred's <i>Preface</i>in a context of 
> glorification, until Henry Sweet, whose interest was purely 
> linguistic.  However, Sweet was interested in one particular 
> manuscript of Alfred's preface and translation of Gregory's 
> <i>Pastoral Care</i> as an example of the West Saxon dialect.  
> "Sweet's cursory and incomplete discussion of the <i>Pastoral 
> Care</i>'s complex manuscript transmission and its cultural 
> milieu also exemplifies his tendency to isolate the scientific 
> study of language from cultural history and to privilege the 
> former--a tendency widespread in subsequent Anglo-Saxon 
> scholarship." (100)  Hagedorn concludes with the warning that 
> although Sweet's edition of the text appears more "objective" 
> than earlier versions, it also "has an ideological subtext of 
> which contemporary scholars who use it would do well to be 
> aware." (101)  Hagedorn's dual focus in this essay on textual 
> and cultural history contributes to the disjointed feel of the 
> volume as a whole.
> In the next essay in the collection, "Nineteenth-Century 
> Scandinavia and the Birth of Anglo-Saxon Studies," Robert Bjork 
> focuses upon the contributions of Danish and Swedish linguists 
> to Anglo-Saxon scholarship, while showing how study of Old 
> English texts and culture was used as a tool in the development 
> of Scandinavian nationalism.  Bjork emphasizes the important 
> early philological work done by Danes, which was, he writes, 
> later "stolen" (112) by the English scholar Benjamin Thorpe.  
> For example, Rasmus Rask wrote an early Old English grammar, 
> while N. F. S. Grundtvig conceived an ambitious plan for 
> publication of a library of Anglo-Saxon texts.  Rask's grammar 
> was translated into English by Thorpe, who also appropriated 
> Grundtvig's ideas.  "He thus eradicated Grundtvig's name from 
> the project and rendered 'Anglo-Saxonism' distinctly, 
> stubbornly British." (112)  According to Bjork, Anglo-Saxonists 
> of various nationalities appropriated Anglo-Saxon texts as 
> foundational for their own languages and cultures: "Titles do 
> or can imply nationalistic sentiment, but philological studies, 
> grammars, prefaces to collections of texts, and random comments 
> interspersed throughout the literature frequently make the 
> nationalism explicit." (116)  Thus Grimur Jonsson Thorkelin 
> calls <i>Beowulf</i> Danish; Heinrich Leo calls it German; and 
> John Mitchell Kemble calls it English.  Though Anglo-Saxon 
> scholarship in Scandinavia has "withered in the twentieth 
> century" (125), Bjork argues that the contributions of 
> Scandinavians to Anglo-Saxon studies remain unacknowledged and 
> unincorporated into English study of the literature.  According 
> to Bjork, Scandinavian scholars such as the Danish Ludvig 
> Schroder "achieved an early aesthetic appreciation for Old 
> English poetry that [English] scholars have still not 
> discovered." (123)  Schroder's interpretation is a big step 
> toward Tolkien, Bjork writes; he concludes, like Hagedorn, with 
> a warning: "As modern Anglo-Saxonists", we may venerate Tolkien 
> too much and appreciate too little the effect that 
> nationalistic motives have had on us.  The history of 
> Scandinavian"Anglo-Saxonism"amply demonstrates both points.
> The next two essays move the discussion from Europe to the 
> United States.  J. R. Hall discusses the burgeoning of Anglo-
> Saxon studies in the United States from one university in 1825 
> to three dozen by 1899 in "Mid-Nineteenth-Century American 
> Anglo-Saxonism."  According to Hall, this was part of the 
> "intense and immense advance in scholarship in nearly all 
> areas" in the United States at the time, but the growth was 
> accelerated by political agendas:  "many Americans understood 
> the Anglo-Saxon linguistic and historical tradition to be a 
> vital part of America's cultural heritage." (133)  These 
> Americans believed that the Anglo-Saxons originated democracy 
> and developed into a "superior" race (134).  Hall traces in 
> detail the opposing arguments of two men, Charles Anderson and 
> John Seely Hart, about the value of studying Old English, in 
> order to make a case for the importance of the study of the 
> language today.  Hall's leap from these two nineteenth-century 
> positions to his pitch for the study of Old English today is 
> rather sudden.  However, his description of Anderson's 
> opposition to the exclusionary ideologies of Anglo-Saxonism 
> provides an important counterweight to the two essays which 
> follow.
> In the next essay, "Bryhtnoth in Dixie: The Emergence of Anglo-
> Saxon Studies in the Postbellum South," Gregory A. VanHoosier-
> Casey follows the development of "Anglo-Saxonism" as a 
> political ideology in the southern United States.  According to 
> VanHoosier-Casey, white Southerners used the example of Anglo-
> Saxon feudalism to justify slavery.  Following the Civil War, 
> the Southerners shifted their focus to the period following the 
> Norman Conquest, likening themselves to native Saxons besieged 
> by foreign invaders (162).  VanHoosier-Casey also notes 
> Southerners' attempts to link certain Anglo-Saxon dialects to 
> Southern speech (165-166).
> VanHoosier-Carey's essay on appropriations of "Anglo-Saxonism" 
> by Southerners clearly refers to white southerners, not those 
> of African heritage, but he never explicitly states this in his 
> essay.  I hesitate to criticize VanHoosier-Carey for not 
> writing the article he didn't set out to write, and yet the 
> absence in his essay of any acknowledgement that such an essay 
> could be written that inhabitants of the south other than white 
> former slave-holders also engaged with ideologies of Anglo-
> Saxonism coupled with his assumption that southerners are by 
> definition white, unless defined otherwise, is an unfortunate 
> lapse, particularly given recent scholarly interest in "white 
> studies."
> The next essay, the last in the collection but for Niles', 
> returns to England.  Velma Bourgeois Richmond chronicles in 
> "Historical Novels to Teach Anglo-Saxonism" an "outpouring of 
> Edwardian children's fiction and history that sought to 
> influence and form an Anglo-Saxon character." (173)  According 
> to Richmond, these novels simultaneously idealized heroism, 
> empire, and Christianity.  She writes, "historical novels that 
> taught 'Anglo-Saxonism' should be recognized as one key factor 
> in the emergence of attitudes that produced, among many 
> glorious achievements, a war of unparalleled proportions." 
> (195)
> Richmond, like VanHoosier-Carey, Richards, and Thormann, leans 
> (apparently unintentionally) toward reification of the values 
> promoted by the "Anglo-Saxonism" of various periods by her 
> focus on the use of Anglo-Saxon history, language, and ideas in 
> a context of admiring appropriation.  Furthermore, Richmond 
> discusses historical novels that draw upon and propagate an 
> ideology of Anglo-Saxon culture dominated by males, echoing the 
> earlier essays in the volume by Richards and Thormann, but 
> avoids any discussion of how women fit into that cultural 
> schema.  Richmond's essay on historical novels refers to values 
> inculcated in "children" that in fact are meaningful only if 
> those children are male.  According to Richmond, "[e]ndless 
> representations of fighting fill the pages of the juvenile 
> novels of this period, inciting readers to a heroic ideal of 
> manliness." (175)  A few pages later, she argues similarly that 
> "this body of juvenile literature fostered Anglo-Saxonism, 
> notably a definition of manliness as a warrior's strengths." 
> (193).  "Juvenile" should encompass girl children as well as 
> boy children, but it seems clear that it was not intended that 
> Victorian and Edwardian girls should strive to heroic ideals of 
> manliness.  My objection here is not to Richmond pointing out 
> that these novels embody these ideologies; my discomfort stems 
> from the fact that she refers exclusively to "children" when 
> describing literature and ideologies that seem directed 
> particularly at male children.
> Richmond again echoes Richards and Thormann in her comments on 
> the role of Christianity in the Anglo-Saxonist ideology: "The 
> Anglo-Saxon myth is a complex one, but especially appealing to 
> people of the Victorian and Edwardian periods were military 
> success in a time of need, the ideal of free and equal citizens 
> united through representative institutions, and the comfort and 
> power of a strengthening Christianity that enhanced unity and 
> stability." (174)  As Virginia Woolf, who was apparently not 
> reading the novels enumerated by Richmond (Hermione Lee, 
> <i>Virginia Woolf<i> [Knopf, 1997]), despite the fact that her 
> childhood bridged the Victorian and Edwardian periods, has 
> eloquently argued, women were not free, equal, or represented 
> by the institutions of the English polity during the early 
> twentieth century.  Furthermore, it might possibly be 
> questioned whether Jewish citizens of England such as Leonard 
> Woolf found comfort or strength in Christianity.
> While J. R. Hall's essay revolves around the tension between an 
> opponent of the racist ideologies embodied in "Anglo-Saxonism" 
> and a promoter of Anglo-Saxon studies as a route to a better 
> modern English, it is striking that among the essays in this 
> volume, only Frantzen's digs deep enough in Anglo-Saxon 
> ideologies to unearth some of the complexities inherent in 
> them, rather than simply describing their deployment in a 
> particular incidence.  Unfortunately, many of the remaining 
> essays present "Anglo-Saxon" identities in ways that are more 
> descriptive than challenging.  Niles calls in his concluding 
> essay for a critical self-awareness and cautions readers about 
> the "silences that surround us, the legacies that have been 
> lifted from our grasp." (221)  The silences in many of the 
> essays that form this volume point to issues that bear further 
> investigation.
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