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Abstracts: Volume 89, Numbers 2 & 3 (2010)

"VII Æthelred and the Genesis of the Beowulf Manuscript" by Leonard Neidorf

David Dumville established on purely paleographical grounds that the Beowulf manuscript was copied out between 997 and 1016. This essay considers why an Anglo-Saxon audience was interested in this possibly ancient poem during the tumultuous years when England was beset by Viking invasions and internal dissension. In contemporary writings—including The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, The Battle of Maldon, and the homilies of Archbishop Wulfstan—many blamed English defeat on hlafordswice (lord-betrayal) and insufficient getreowþa (loyalty). I argue that Beowulf was copied out to address this problem and offer a window into a world where social bonds were vigorously upheld. The royal decree known as VII Æthelred calls on the entire English population to contribute to the defense effort against the Vikings, and I posit that for one scriptorium, the Beowulf manuscript might have been their contribution.

"The Mermedonian Computus" by Hilary E. Fox

In the Old English Andreas, the poet uses the term rimcræft (calculation or computus) to describe the reckoning system the cannibalistic Mermedonians to determine when they will consume their victims. While numerous scholars have explored the typologies of baptism, Eucharist, and penance that inform the poem, this paper offers a reading of Andreas which understands it as an Easter poem, in which the Mermedonians' rimcræft stands in for computistical practices that had been long contested in Anglo-Saxon England and on the Continent. The work of conversion in the poem, then, is not only typological, but can also be read as depicting the spiritual underpinnings behind ever-changing computistical practices in the late antique and early Middle Ages, as well as the relationships between the seemingly abstract practice of the computus and practices of faith.

"Chaucer's Knight's Tale and the Politics of Distinction" by Walter Wadiak

In Chaucer's Knight's Tale, Palamon imagines that his rival Arcite will win the hand of their mutual beloved "by som aventure." As it happens, adventure is strikingly absent from the tale even though the word itself is used constantly. This essay reads the conspicuous absence of adventure in the tale as a strategy of distinction that allows Chaucer to mark his distance from popular adventure stories. In particular, the Middle English Havelok the Dane serves as a possible model for an episode in which a disguised Arcite (in a Chaucerian addition) spends his money "slyly" so as not be revealed. The essay concludes by arguing that the revised episode reflects a logic of concealment that also characterizes the tale as a whole, in which cultural richness is imagined to come from a denial of economic profit and its role in literary production.

"Exile and Restoration in John Crowne's The Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus Vespasian" by Vanita Neelakanta

John Crowne's The Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus Vespasian (1677), a love story set against the backdrop of the siege of Jerusalem and the capture and destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, has been largely dismissed as a mediocre, if extravagant, imitation of Dryden's heroic drama. Unlike other early modern accounts which simply interpreted the razing of the Temple and eviction of the Jews as divine punishment for their rejection of Christ, The Destruction of Jerusalem recognizes and foregrounds the trauma of besiegement and exile, and provides a powerful commentary on banishment, alienation, and loss. This article recuperates Crowne's nuanced treatment of the siege of Jerusalem and subsequent expulsion of the Jews in relation to both the Restoration court's recent history of displacement as well as the readmission of the Jews into England in the 1650s.

"Did Defoe Write Moll Flanders and Roxana?" by Ashley Marshall

The evidence for Daniel Defoe's authorship of Moll, Roxana, and several other novels long associated with him, is late and unsatisfactory. These and other works of fiction were first attributed to Defoe by a rogue bookseller named Francis Noble in the mid-1770s, almost fifty years after Defoe's death. Many Defovians know this, but the implications never have been seriously confronted. This essay argues not that Defoe did not write these works of fiction, but that we cannot afford to presume his authorship. We are left with an awkward problem: Noble either discovered or fabricated Defoe-the-novelist, and we will probably never be certain which. Lacking solid evidence for Defoe's authorship, we should resign ourselves to studying the poet and journalist we know existed, rather than trying to illuminate the novelist who only might have.

"On the Attribution of Novels to Daniel Defoe" by P. N. Furbank and W. R. Owens

In A Critical Bibliography of Daniel Defoe, published in 1998, P. N. Furbank and W. R. Owens categorized three novels—Captain Singleton, Moll Flanders, and The Fortunate Mistress—as "certainly" by Defoe, though the only known external evidence for this attribution is that the publisher Francis Noble published (wildly mangled) versions of them in the 1770s and 1780s, setting Defoe's name on the title pages. A number of Defoe scholars have queried whether, in view of the obvious untrustworthiness of Noble, and late date of his ascriptions, his title-page attributions can be regarded as external evidence. This article defends the logic of regarding Noble as external evidence, but it also presents some of the considerable amount of internal evidence that can be brought forward to support the attribution of these novels to Defoe.

"Did Defoe Write Roxana? Does It Matter?" by Robert J. Griffin

Aside from Robinson Crusoe, concerning which there is clear evidence, the status of the external evidence for Defoe's authorship of Roxana and the other prose fictions that were ascribed to him on the title pages of Frances Noble's publications in the 1770s and 1780s has been put in question. This article argues that the case for external evidence is strengthened if we consider Defoe's intimate dealings with the book trade, especially the booksellers who published the first editions of the novels. A connection is then established between several of those booksellers and Noble by way of the imprints of editions of Moll Flanders and Roxana published in the early 1740s, thirty years before Noble would attach Defoe's name to them.

"'O Vanity!' Fielding's Other Antisocial Affectation" by Melanie D. Holm

In The Adventures of Joseph Andrews (1742), Henry Fielding identifies all vice as the result of affectation and traces the source of affectation to two causes: hypocrisy and vanity. His comic critique of hypocrisy has received considerable critical attention. Less recognized, however, is Fielding's critique of vanity as a moral complication to empirical understanding. His novels detail how vanity tacitly influences categories of judgment to promote self-interested interpretations and to limit critical self-reflection. People are thereby unable to determine accurately the moral quality of their acts, often mistaking their worst vices as their best virtues. To correct this tendency, Fielding advances a mode of pedagogical skepticism throughout his comic fictions that unmakes, rather than inculcates, convictions, and ultimately calls into question the efficacy and motives of the more traditional pedagogical practices employed by his contemporaries.

"Authors Unformed: Reading 'Beauties' in the Eighteenth Century" by Daniel Cook

Available in a range of formats, from palm-sized octodecimos to octavos, compilations of exemplary "beauties" in prose or verse made ideal gift books in the eighteenth century. Each volume was an edificatory vade mecum and together they formed an affordable library of compact classics. The Beauties of Shakespeare, first edited by the Reverend William Dodd in 1752, ran to thirty-nine editions by 1893, and volumes of Laurence Sterne and Samuel Johnson in different series were especial favorites throughout the Anglophone world over many decades. After Dodd, the London-based bookseller George Kearsley capitalized on the demand for such collections. He produced new selections of Shakespeare around 1780, various bestselling editions of Johnson and Swift, among others, and finally Pope in 1783 (with further remolding throughout the 1790s). Through a close examination of the material conditions of these collections, in this essay I hope to illuminate certain anxieties surrounding authorship and readership that lay buried within a larger history of the role of the anthology in the dissemination of vernacular literature.

"Before Michael Field: Katharine Bradley as 'Arran Leigh'" by Matthew Mitton

Between 1889 and 1914 Katharine Bradley and her niece Edith Cooper collaborated on eight collections of lyric poetry, published under the pseudonym of Michael Field. Years before, however, they had used more ambiguous names: Bradley, in 1875, had The New Minnesinger published as the work of Arran Leigh; Bellerophon appeared in 1881 as the work of Arran and Isla Leigh. After almost a century of neglect, the poetry of "Michael Field" has recently undergone a critical revival, but, as yet, there has been no assessment of these formative works by Bradley and Cooper. While focusing primarily on Bradley's The New Minnesinger, this essay argues that the Arran and Isla Leigh works should be seen as prefiguring the thematic and aesthetic trajectory of the later Michael Field oeuvre.