Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Norton Anthology is neither written by Ed Norton nor an anthology. Discuss.

I've been trying desperately not to blog over the last week, since that would only distract me from putting together my syllabi for the fall semester (as it is doing as I write this now).

Still, I can't help but comment, once again, about the truncated medieval offerings of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, which omits tons of extremely canonical Old and Middle English literature from its tiny, tiny medieval Volume A, but which includes so much dull, boring, stuff in the remaining five volumes of modern literature that I'm convinced the editors were paid by the pound.

For example, their Anglo-Saxon offerings:
  • Caedmon's Hymn (and the bit of Bede introducing it)
  • Dream of the Rood
  • Beowulf
  • Judith
  • King Alfred's Preface to the Pastoral Care
  • The Wanderer
  • The Wife's Lament
That's it. Really. As a bit more insult, when they added Judith in the 8th edition, they removed Battle of Maldon, as if the extra few pages was going to over-inflate the Anglo-Saxon section.

OK, I can't deal with now ... if you could knock some sense into the editors, what would you insist they include?


  1. Anonymous4:45 PM

    If you won't include Latin, then I would say a couple scenes from the Old English edition of Bede's History. There is the Old English Martyrology, which is a narrative martyrology that includes some of Bede's folklore on the calendar (ie on English names for the months etc, if I recall correctly). The Cynewulf episode from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or some other longish, narrative or some part that matches part of a selection from the OE Bede's History to compare it to.

    Surely there is an OE riddle or two, or prayer.

  2. I second the call for a naughty riddle or two, but would it kill them to throw in some Genesis B as well?

  3. People still use the Norton Anthology? Haven't ever assigned in it one of my classes. I used to use the Longman anth until they swapped out good translations of Beowulf and SGGK for less useful ones (jester! their trans refers to Unferth as a "jester" -- oh don't let me commence on what all is wrong with that). At present I use the Broadview, which at least has the Liuzza Beowulf, when I have to rely on an anthology.

    I have long despised the Nortons.

  4. Well, we used Norton in undergrad - the two-volume condensed one. We were doing a survey of British literature in two semesters.

    But yes, it was somewhat disappointing to have so little medieval stuff and so much modern. It's not how I'd weight it.

  5. Overall, I defend the use of anthologies. One simply can't cover everything, and an anthology at least gives the good student something to start with to look at a particular period or author. I wouldn't be here today without having picked up a Norton 3rd edition at a used bookstore lo, these many years ago and fallen for Caedmon. I wasn't an English major btw....

    Of the major anthologies out there, I do like the Broadview the best for the early Brit Lit survey. The problem with all of them though has less to do with the anthologies and anthology makers/editors than it does with our departments. Yes, the problem is us! The majority (and yes there are of course exceptions) of English departments offering a Brit Lit survey have the "early" period extending from the "beginnings" to the 17th or 18th centuries! That's a huge amount of material to cover. And numerically speaking, *most* teachers of such surveys are generalists, Ren Lit folk, or heaven forfend, modernists. So, the companies in the business of selling to a market, create works that target those folk rather than us medievalists. And the sad thing is WE TAKE IT!!!! We need to work in our depts to get those wide ranges chopped down so we can include more medieval, and we need to talk to the publishers about doing a better job and including more medieval material. Or just stop buying their anthologies.

  6. Or just stop buying their anthologies.

    See above: I will not buy a Norton. I stopped ordering the Longman when they changed translations *and* told their rep exactly why, blogged about it and told other folks.

  7. I don't have any choice on the anthology front. I have to assign the Norton. I can order "supplemental" texts, but that's on top of the $60-$70 for the Norton.