Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



For some time, scholars who study English identity formation in the literature produced between the Norman Conquest and the Hundred Years War have addressed the manifold ways English writers imagined and reconstructed the Anglo-Saxon past as a golden era free of the taint of foreign domination. I find the cultural memory of pre-Conquest England to be only a fraction of what constituted literary Englishness, and my research calls for a more nuanced description of English literary identity during the period in question. The hybrid critical approach I employ is a blend of historicist and structural linguistic methodologies that takes both diachronic and synchronic perspectives on the question of how Englishness was represented in literature. I argue that before the middle of the thirteenth century literary Englishness was formed through an inclusive process that included drawing on a native oral narrative tradition, a limited but identifiable engagement with the Old English textual tradition, and the translation non-English wisdom and sententia. The Proverbs of Alfred (mid 12th C.) and the Owl and the Nightingale (turn of the 13th C.) are prime examples. After the middle of the thirteenth century, for a number of sociopolitical reasons - most prominently the continued loss of continental landholding by the English crown - literary English identity begins to be drawn in contrast to a Francophone identity. This can be seen in the Matter of England (English language romances with pre-Conquest settings and heroes) as well as in other genres such chronicle writing. To illustrate this shift, I provide close readings of Bevis of Hampton and Robert Mannyng’s chronicle of English history, both of which were penned by writers who sought to correct their Anglo-Norman sources. Altogether, instead of describing literary Englishness as primarily reminiscent of the Anglo-Saxon era without any real connection to the narratives of that time, I argue that the use of the English language and gestures towards to the Anglo-Saxon era were the only true constants in an English identity that, into the fourteenth century, underwent continual revision.



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Committee Chair

Gellrich, Jesse