Buying Books for this Section of 211

Buying the Textbook Takes Thought:

Required Text--

The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1: The Middle Ages through the Restoration and the Eighteenth Century.  Ed. M. H. Abrams, et al.  (N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 2012).

        If you are buying the Norton Anthology for this course, please keep in mind that I am using the 9th edition (2012).  If you have a copy of the 8th edition, you can use it with confidence in anything other than its page numbering, which will differ slightly (or a lot) from the 9th.  Its full title is The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1: The Middle Ages through the Restoration and the Eighteenth Century.  Because Norton makes many similar but significantly different versions of this anthology, you need to be careful before buying a copy.  The safest test is the book's "ISBN," or International Standard Book Number, the unique identifier given every modern printed edition so that it can be distinguished from other, similar editions.  This edition's ISBN-10 is 0393912477.  Why "ISBN-10"?  Recently, the book-selling community has added a three-digit prefix identifying the book publisher to the traditional ten-digit ISBN, which identifies the edition itself.  Our ISBN-13 is 978-0393912470 because all books published by W.W. Norton begin their ISBN-13 with "978."  Why is this important?  Read the answer below.  Click here for advice about buying the Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume 1  in used condition from online or local bookstores.  If you have not shopped for used books online before, try this site:  Use the "Advanced Search Options" to cut and past the exact title from above into the search window, and add the ISBN to be certain you are getting the correct edition.  The results arrive automatically sorted by "lowest price."

Recommended Text--

M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms 9th Edition (N.Y.: Wadsworth, 2008).  ISBN-10: 1413033903 ISBN-13: 978-1413033908

        Meyer Howard Abrams was a major Twentieth-Century scholar who specialized in Romantic Poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelly, Byron, Keats, etc.), and he was chosen to lead the team of scholars who assembled the first edition of the Norton Anthology (1962).  Abrams created the glossary of terms you can find at the back of your anthology to improve students' ability to analyze the primary literary texts, but because of space and cost considerations, Norton kept the glossary small compared to the sheer number of terms of art that professional literary analysts use.  For this reason, he persuaded Norton to publish a more complete glossary as a separate edition.  If you are serious about literary scholarship, I strongly recommend that you buy this glossary, but you may be able to do just fine with an earlier edition.  The main changes in scholarship since the 1980s have been terms of art from literary theory, and you will get an introduction to those in English 215's exploration of critical methods and the theories which ground them.  Used copies of the 9th edition already are available in used book stores for between $30 and $40, and used copies of earlier editions are far cheaper.  See below if you want to try to score a bargain.  Having the right name for things can enable you to see those things better--as Mark Twain once wrote, "The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."  (Letter to George Bainton, 1888, reported by Bainton in The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners, Personally Contributed by Leading Authors of the Day. [London: James Clarke, 1890])

What is an "Edition" of a Work of Literature?:

        Deciding which "Norton Anthology" to buy raises the interesting notion of what an "edition" is, as opposed to a "work of literature," and what the editors do to a work of literature that makes their "edition" worth paying good money for.  For one example of something editors and printers do to make their editions seem attractive, take a look at this title page from a multi-volume set of the "collected works" of Martin Luther: Martin Luther (Wittenburg: Peter Seitz, 1566) The woodcut image depicts Luther, the great Protestant Reformer (not the excommunicated schismatic heretic!) praying at the foot of the cross with Phillip Melanchthon, another famous German Humanist scholar.  What are readers supposed to learn from this huge (40+ cm. high) folio edition, bound in real wooden boards with forged iron clasps on its fore-edge?  How does that relate to what the Norton editors are attempting to communicate with the Anthology's cover and title page layout, format, apparatus (notes and forwards, etc.), and presentation of its contents.  Remember, you are a researcher, not a passive consumer of text.  Study the objects before you as if they had arrived from an alien civilization, because they have, you know!  None of these works of literature first were produced and consumed as you now see them in the Norton, and many were printed (or reproduced in manuscript) with multiple colored inks, hand-drawn or wood-block illustrations, and page layouts far different from the Norton's spare "míse-en-page."  And you can bet that the first printed editions of most of these works contained no footnotes.  Why not?

What is "literary" about "literature"? 

        You will notice that early English poetry (c. before 1950?) and prose (c. before 1900) are composed using far more and more complex formal devices.  Poetry usually rhymes and always has meter (consistent rhythm), and it often alliterates, uses metaphors and similes, inverts ordinary sentence construction, and generally presents more difficulties to the modern reader than modern poetry, which almost never rhymes, advances according to a stable meter, or uses complex syntax.  Comparisons, in the form of similes and occasional metaphors, sometimes are the only formal tools modern poets use.  Early English prose also tends to use more rhetorical figures than mere simile or metaphor (click here for a list), and its syntax and word choice often were more complex than the comparatively plain style of much modern English prose.  In brief, "literature" was supposed to differ from the language used in ordinary speech.  To give you a quick test for the "literariness" of early English literature, look for the numbers of times and ways in which it violates H. P. Grice's "Maxims" for ordinary language communication.  Grice, a philosopher of language, was seeking to describe only the rules followed by ordinary speakers and hearers of English discourse, much as we unconsciously follow rules for direction, speed, and eye contact when walking down a crowded city street.  As walking is to dancing, so ordinary speech is to literary composition.  Get ready to dance with the best in the language.

What is early English literature "about" if not the artist's attempt to express him- or herself?

        Modern literature, whether poetry or prose, often seems autobiographical.  Many a first novel or early poem originates in the authors' drive to record in words her/his version of events, feelings, or ideas.  The "honesty" of these works often is praised, suggesting that the culture as a whole is so remarkably corrupt that truth-telling needs the shield of literariness to exist.  Whatever the truth of this speculation, early English literature was produced by authors who were taught to write in ways that discouraged simple, unadorned declarations of truth and that encouraged highly ornate works that connected to or even imitated, with variations, previous works of literature.  Puritan reformers attacked those literary conventions as corrupting lies, but the complex conventions of formal literary style persist even today.  Then, as now, literature was understood as "mimesis," a re-presentation of Nature, but early English literature distinguished itself from ordinary history-writing or legal testimony by its use of dramatic settings implied or explicitly described that destabilized the audience's relationship to the location of the work (e.g., "the seacoast of Bohemia," "a blasted heath," "the Tabard Inn").  Personae, or "masks," were used to populate these settings with characters who resembled but did not merely imitate the actions of actual persons.  When you read early literature, remember that its authors expected you to be curious about the whole world, including its possibilities as well as its actualities, and not just about the authors' lives, which might be fairly dull when compared with "the wrath of Achilles" or how the Wife of Bath tamed five husbands.  Literature WAS "the Internet" of the early English world in that it brought the rest of the universe within the bounds of its sentences, and unlike the typical MySpace or FaceBook page, the topics of interest usually were not to be found in the authors' lives, but rather in the ideas and experiences the works caused to occur in audiences' imaginations.  When you are tempted to interpret a work of literature as "just the author telling us about her/his life," remember the power of imagination and illusion.  Sometimes, when authors seem to be most plainly saying to us, "this is my life," they are inventing most furiously a new identity in which to live.  As in the case of "Ghost Clock," a sculpture appearing to represent a grandfather clock at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., you must remember that, in literature, unless demonstrated otherwise, "there is no clock."