Buying Books for English 240

        When possible, I have set up hyperlinks from the syllabus to online scholarly editions of assigned readings.  However, in some cases, that has not been possible.  In other cases, the printed edition is so inexpensive, or its editorial apparatus (glossaries, notes, etc.) is so valuable, that the online editions would be more difficult to read for 200-level students, so I ordered the books at the bookstore.  I understand students' need to keep textbook purchase costs down, so if you have questions about the suitability of an edition I have not ordered, please ask and I'll tell you if it will work.  Of course you will want to print and hand-annotate any online editions you elect to use, remembering the overwhelming research that indicates reading on-screen is less accurate and memory of text is less retentive than reading on the page.  In any event, hand-annotation is a scholarly analytical and mnemonic method with a proven success record for over two millennia.  Only fools would trust their scholarship to undocumented memories of online reading.

1)  Geoffrey Chaucer.  The Riverside Chaucer.  Ed. Larry D. Benson.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987 (and many reprints)

Hardcover: 1327 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company; 3rd edition (February, 1987)
Language: English
ISBN: 0395290317

        Edited by Larry Benson, this third edition of  F.N. Robinson's original edition is the current scholarly text for Chaucer studies, and it is expensive ($84 list / $75 Amazon new / $45 or lower online used).  Nevertheless, its glossaries and explanatory notes are indispensable aids to students and publishing scholars, alike.   It's available in paperback (1988, ISBN: 0192821091) for $45 new, but you will notice that its new and used price are nearly the same, and both hover around the cost of a used hardcover edition.  That is no accident, but it's also not an insidious plot--too many independent booksellers are involved.  It's the marketplace's supply/demand function in action.  No sane person will sell the paperback for less than a used hardcover because both contain the same text.  For my money, I'd rather have hardcover--the paperback is a weaker binding trying to hold together the same 1327 pages that the sewn hardcover binding struggles to contain.

Workarounds: buy it used at an independent bookstore via, but make sure you get the right ISBN!; share a copy between two friends with compatible schedules; consult the Riverside notes and glossary to use with an online edition based on Robinson's 2nd edition (accept no less!).

2)  Sir Thomas Malory.  Malory: Works.  Ed. Eugene Vinaver.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977 (and many reprints).

Paperback: 828 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (November 17, 1977)
Language: English
ISBN: 0192812173

        The scholarly history of Malory's text, one of the truly exciting stories in Richard Altick's The Scholar Adventurers, has inextricably bound up this work of literature with its Twentieth-Century scholarly editor, Eugene Vinaver.  All editions prior to his are no longer under copyright and therefore available on the web.  However, the trick is that they are all based on an inaccurate text we received from Malory's first editor, the fifteenth-century English printer, William Caxton (1485).  Vinaver was given the task of editing the "Winchester Manuscript," discovered in 1934 and (because of World War II) not published until 1947.  What he discovered in the manuscript led him to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that Malory did not write one complete Arthurian narrative called Le Morte Darthur [sic], but rather that he wrote a set of separate romances that later were compiled, perhaps by another person or even the printer, in the order printed in 1485 and known to the world as Malory's masterpiece for almost 450 years.  So you must buy the Vinaver Malory, but the good news is that it is widely available in used paperback editions from independent booksellers online ( for about $14, less than half what it costs new at Amazon or a bricks-and-mortar bookstore.  For serious scholarship, the hardcover edition is available at the library: 826.2 M25 1967.  The notes in Volume 3 contain both Vinaver's usually lucid guide to Malory's reading of his sources, and a hornet's nest of controversy EV simultaneously was carrying on with the British and American critics who thought he completely misunderstood the significance of the Winchester MS.  That is why I love this job.

3)  The Pearl-Poet (AKA, The Gawain-Poet).  The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet.  Translated by Casey Finch.  Berkeley: U California P, 1993.

Paperback: 488 pages
Publisher: University of California Press (April, 1993)
Language: English
ISBN: 0520078713

        This is a "facing page" edition, with the reigning scholarly Middle English edition by Malcolm Andrew, Ronald Waldron, and Clifford Peterson opposite Finch's translation.  This edition is harder to justify, but it's also cheaper ($34 list / $31 new Amazon / $14 or lower used).  The translation is not considered superior to many others out there, but it offers you the chance to dip into the Pearl-Poet's notoriously thorny but elegant West Midlands Middle English.  That is important for the kinds of interpretation that seem to come easiest to many 200-level students, like New Critical close reading for thematic uses of words that would be lost in translation, or Structuralist and Deconstructionist studies of key clusters of terms that establish those binary oppositions of structuring values.  We are reading only portions of the Pearl-Poet's oeuvre, so you could use any translation you like while checking it against the Middle English text found online at U. Michigan's "Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse" ( up top under "Anonymous").  I still would advise you to consult the Finch edition notes and glossary.

Workarounds: buy it used at an independent bookstore via, but make sure you get the right ISBN!; share a copy between two friends with compatible schedules; copy the notes and glossary to use with an online translation based on the Waldron et al. edition in Middle English.

4)  The Thomas C. Rumble edition of The Breton Lays in Middle English went out of print at some point before 2011.  You can still buy it used, but for a newer and in-print edition, I have switched to Anne laskaya and Eve Salisbury's TEAMS Middle English Texts edition:

The Middle English Breton Lays.  Ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury.  Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan U. (Medieval Institute), 2001.

  • Paperback: 444 pages
  • Publisher: Western Michigan Univ Medieval (November 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1879288621
  • ISBN-13: 978-1879288621
  • It is available new for under $20, and used copies are plentiful.

    The Breton Lays in Middle English.  Ed. Thomas C. Rumble.  Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1965.

    Paperback: 300 pages
    Publisher: Wayne State University Press (June, 1965)
    Language: English
    ISBN: 0814312659

           Rumble's edition includes photographs of the first page of each lay in manuscript form, which are amazingly instructive once you know how to use them.  His notes are just enough for most students and they're all found at the bottom of the page.  He includes information about what manuscripts each lay was found in, which we will learn to interpret, and he gives a bibliography of scholarship on the lays that's good up to the end of New Criticism (i.e., 1965).  You also can read each lay in the TEAMS edition online for free, including the notes and introductory essay (the TEAMS people are scholar-saints!), but it's harder to take your own notes online and you may fall into the trap of reading without note-taking.

    5).  Marie de France.  The Lays of Marie de France.  Trans. Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby.  N.Y.: Penguin, 1986 (and many reprints)

    Paperback: 176 pages
    Publisher: Penguin Classics; 2nd edition (June 1, 1999)
    Language: English
    ISBN: 0140447598

            Marie is one of the most often-translated early English women writers, but I urge you to spend a few dollars ($9.60/$5.00) on the Burgess and Busby paperback because of its scholarly-quality introduction, useful bibliography, and the appended text of one of the lays in Marie's Norman French verse so you can compare the Modern English prose with the elusive poetry it's attempting to capture.  You also can read Marie in one of the many other translations, including decent online versions, but remember to beware trusting translations for New Critical close reading and for many other types of interpretation (save, perhaps, Structuralism, Deconstruction, Marxism, and Feminism when they're not also using NC).  See the web page or the "Online Primary Sources" page.  You also can read Marie's texts in Norman French online at the University of Manitoba's support page for "Langue et littérature du moyen âge."   You will need to consult that for any New Critical close reading analysis.

    What's the bottom line for all this?  If you buy the books new at the Goucher Bookstore, you'll probably pay over $180.  If you buy used editions of all five texts online, they'll cost you about $80 plus shipping.  I would understand if you bought new because you love the feel of that new paper and the smell of new ink, and hate to look at some idiot's marginalia.  Then again . . . .