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A Taste-Test Buffet of English Literature
on 14 February 2004
The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1, is an indispensable addition to the book shelf of students, scholars and avid readers alike. Beautifully presented in matte paperback, and expertly executed by a plethora of academic editors, it covers the literature of the British Isles from the first Anglo-Saxon poet Caedmon (early 7th century) to the late 18th century, cutting off just before the Romantic period.
Contained within her several unexpected gems, including the full text of Seamus Heaney's verse translation of "Beowulf", the "Ancrene Riwle" - a medieval text concerning anchoresses which is otherwise unavailable, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and a substantial selection of Langland and Middle English lyrics. Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe and Donne all get lengthy, well selected outings, and are accompanied by a relatively wide array of women poets and authors, including the full text of Aphra Behn's "Oroonoko". The entirety of Swift's "Gulliver Travels" finds a slot and there are even more obscure gems like "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano the African by Himself", an account of slavery in the UK, nestled inside the wealth of famous names.
The second volume covering the Romantic period to the present follows directly on, but its this first volume, containing so much material otherwise neglected by popular taste or curriculum, that provides such a good "finger buffet" for those looking to go further. Hopefully it will inspire more readers to branch out into the formative literature of the pre-1790's.
Don't let the heft of the book, or the apparent flimsiness of its pages put you off. Its lighter, and hardier, than it looks and worth its weight in gold.