Editor: Joseph Black et al.
Publisher: Broadview Press
A literature anthology is integral to the early part of most English literature students’ undergraduate degree programme. A good one will provide both full versions and key excerpts from canonical texts, and place them in their historical context for those new to the study of their chosen subject. This excellent volume fulfils these requirements and much more.
Its editors have succeeded in their unenviable task of summarising the history of English literature in less than 1,700 pages, using a chronological format that navigates the major historical literary movements. The reader is guided from the birth of literature through the Middle English period, and on to the Renaissance and the “long 18th century”. Broadview Press has drawn on its extensive publishing list, already popular with students, to provide overviews of English literature’s major authors. Also included is a wide selection of lesser-known writers who illustrate a range of diverse cultural voices.
Any new collection will ultimately be judged against the market leader, The Norton Anthology of English Literature. If measured solely on its ability to offer quantity and length of texts, this book falls short of its more established competitor. However, the economy of its language and succinct style may prove more pertinent to its target audience.
The volume’s real success is the clarity and conciseness of its secondary criticism. A recurring explanatory section precedes each major literary movement, and contextualises its authors and their works. The sections on Old English, drama and slavery are particularly well conceived, and their readable style continues into the insightful and lengthy annotations of the primary texts. The volume’s large page size and two-column layout also compares favourably with that of its competitors for ease of reading, although the format would admittedly make it more difficult to transport to lectures.
Broadview Press has done a great job in making the volume’s interactive content, which is accessible via a pass-code supplied with the book, both integral and relevant to the reading experience. The online version offers additional support material, criticism and full texts; here, its approach compares favourably with Norton’s, which can feel like something of an afterthought. One particularly innovative and useful idea is the provision of sound files to listen to while reading along with texts such as Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales; Old and Middle English can seem a daunting prospect to many students studying literature for the first time.
Who is it for? All those new to the study of English literature.
Would you recommend it? Yes, although perhaps in addition to, rather than instead of, more comprehensive anthologies.
The Oxford Handbook of Milton
Editors: Nicholas McDowell and Nigel Smith
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price: £89.00 and £30.00
ISBN: 9780199210886 and 9697885