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An Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England [Illustrated] [Paperback]

Bruce Mitchell
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 5 1994 0631174362 978-0631174363
In the six centuries before the Norman Conquest, the Anglo-Saxons set their mark on England: the origins of much that is distinctive in modern English culture may be found in the period, most notably the English language itself. This outstanding book is an introduction to Old English language and literature set within the context of Anglo-Saxon history and society -so arranged that the one constantly illuminates the other.

Parts I, II, and V aim to provide the reader with an understanding of, and in particular the ability to read, Old English. Drawing on over four decades of teaching experience, the author proceeds in clear, manageable steps. He stresses the 'Englishness' of Old English, guides the reader through possible difficulties, and illustrates each point with examples.

Part III presents a wide-ranging account of Anglo-Saxon England. A description of the literature is followed by a brief history of the period, made vivid through a series of extracts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The author draws on the latest archaeological and historical research to describe arts, crafts, and occupations, from weapons, coins, textiles, and jewellery to ship-building, architecture, and sculpture.

In his account of town and country life, of warriors, farmers, and entertainers, Bruce Mitchell shows the impact of Christianity on a heroic society, in which both men and women played important roles. This impact created a tension that is frequently apparent in a representative selection of fifty-one prose and verse texts provided in Part IV. Each of the texts is introduced and placed in context, and footnote annotations explain points of difficulty.

The book is illustrated with maps, line drawings, and photographs. It has a guide to further reading and full indexes, and concludes with a glossary tailored to meet the needs of those encountering Old English for the first time. The author's aim is to allow the reader both to understand Anglo-Saxon society and to experience the richness of its literature and culture. He will be found to have succeeded.

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"An Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England is a scholarly yet popular work that introduces us to Old English and its historical and social environment." History of Language

From the Back Cover

In the six centuries before the Norman Conquest, the Anglo-Saxons set their mark on England: the origins of much that is distinctive in modern English culture may be found in the period, most notably the English language itself. This outstanding book is an introduction to Old English language and literature set within the context of Anglo-Saxon history and society -so arranged that the one constantly illuminates the other.

Parts I, II, and V aim to provide the reader with an understanding of, and in particular the ability to read, Old English. Drawing on over four decades of teaching experience, the author proceeds in clear, manageable steps. He stresses the 'Englishness' of Old English, guides the reader through possible difficulties, and illustrates each point with examples.

Part III presents a wide-ranging account of Anglo-Saxon England. A description of the literature is followed by a brief history of the period, made vivid through a series of extracts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The author draws on the latest archaeological and historical research to describe arts, crafts, and occupations, from weapons, coins, textiles, and jewellery to ship-building, architecture, and sculpture.

In his account of town and country life, of warriors, farmers, and entertainers, Bruce Mitchell shows the impact of Christianity on a heroic society, in which both men and women played important roles. This impact created a tension that is frequently apparent in a representative selection of fifty-one prose and verse texts provided in Part IV. Each of the texts is introduced and placed in context, and footnote annotations explain points of difficulty.

The book is illustrated with maps, line drawings, and photographs. It has a guide to further reading and full indexes, and concludes with a glossary tailored to meet the needs of those encountering Old English for the first time. The author's aim is to allow the reader both to understand Anglo-Saxon society and to experience the richness of its literature and culture. He will be found to have succeeded.


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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding book. June 15 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
As a student of various languages, but a newcomer to the study of Old English, I found this book an unintimidating but, nevertheless, comprehensive and in-depth introduction to the language. Mr. Mitchell begins by tracing the origins of our erstwhile obscure tongue, which has attained the status of a latter-day Latin in terms of its widespread use by native and non-native speakers alike in numerous environments. Unfortunately, many or most native speakers of English have little or no knowledge of the language in its earlier forms. I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to enrich his own knowledge of the language through the study of its roots. It is a study not only of language, but history as well, a point which Mr. Mitchell highlights in such a way as to make this "dead" language come alive. The author grabs the attention of the reader from the first page, more than I thought possible in a didactic book which, of necessity, must teach the rudimentary elements of grammar, and manages to keep it even through the introduction of paradigms. This is in part due to his success in introducing these paradigms in the context of the language in use, as opposed to in uninterrupted pages of dry, grammatical tables which I have found in many other books. Already in the foreword, Mr. Mitchell has begun to give the reader a feel for the language by quoting simple passages and providing literal translations for them. An excellent introduction, and invitation, to a fascinating language, foreign and yet strangely familiar.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars A really interesting book! Oct. 10 2003
Format:Paperback
It's been hard work, but I've put in some elbow grease and made it.
A very readable introduction to Old English language, culture, art, and society. Nearly every aspect of Anglo-Saxon life is touched on, supported with carefully cited sources (usually primary), and a good selection of illustrations. The author's sincere passion for Old English always comes through, and he's very good about encouraging the student. When things are going to be a little hard, you're warned that you've got to just slog through it, and you are guided down the path.
Another nice thing about this book that should be pointed out is that it has a lot to offer people who aren't especially interested in learning Old English, but instead more engaged by the culture and life of the Anglo-Saxon people. Mitchell's expositions are fascinating and feature copious examples from both academic literature and primary sources. You don't need to know a lick of Old English to learn a lot from this book!
I would have appreciated a few touches, however. My primary complaint is that the translations often weren't literal enough. While this made them readable, I had to very frequently second-guess the translations while trying my hand at my own, and would have liked more chances to test my work directly to be sure I was on track. I'm not convinced that, especially in the discussions of language directly, I wouldn't have had an easier time with klutzier and more literal examples.
I'd also like to see all-color plates, in a future edition.
All said and done, this was an immensly satisfying process-- I'm not adept at Old English (one never learns a language all at once anyway, and let's face it: how on Earth do you get any practice if you're not in school?
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Who's Afraid of Beowulf? March 12 2000
Format:Paperback
If you're fascinated by English literature and language in general, as I was, but intimidated by the obscure vocabulary and inflections of "Old Anguish," this is your book. It's not a "for Dummies" manual, but it's more reader-friendly than a college text. It introduces all the fundamentals of the language, along with an overview of the culture that produced the tongue. It overlaps the more formal text, "Guide to Old English" (by Mitchell & Robinson) in some places word for word, but "Invitation" is much more chatty and fun. Mitchell's love for Old English is infectious, as is his conviction that it's not as hard to learn as it looks. By the time I was finished, I had a good beginner's command of Old English and a thirst to learn more.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who's Afraid of Beowulf? March 12 2000
By Douglas Harper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you're fascinated by English literature and language in general, as I was, but intimidated by the obscure vocabulary and inflections of "Old Anguish," this is your book. It's not a "for Dummies" manual, but it's more reader-friendly than a college text. It introduces all the fundamentals of the language, along with an overview of the culture that produced the tongue. It overlaps the more formal text, "Guide to Old English" (by Mitchell & Robinson) in some places word for word, but "Invitation" is much more chatty and fun. Mitchell's love for Old English is infectious, as is his conviction that it's not as hard to learn as it looks. By the time I was finished, I had a good beginner's command of Old English and a thirst to learn more.
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding book. June 15 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As a student of various languages, but a newcomer to the study of Old English, I found this book an unintimidating but, nevertheless, comprehensive and in-depth introduction to the language. Mr. Mitchell begins by tracing the origins of our erstwhile obscure tongue, which has attained the status of a latter-day Latin in terms of its widespread use by native and non-native speakers alike in numerous environments. Unfortunately, many or most native speakers of English have little or no knowledge of the language in its earlier forms. I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to enrich his own knowledge of the language through the study of its roots. It is a study not only of language, but history as well, a point which Mr. Mitchell highlights in such a way as to make this "dead" language come alive. The author grabs the attention of the reader from the first page, more than I thought possible in a didactic book which, of necessity, must teach the rudimentary elements of grammar, and manages to keep it even through the introduction of paradigms. This is in part due to his success in introducing these paradigms in the context of the language in use, as opposed to in uninterrupted pages of dry, grammatical tables which I have found in many other books. Already in the foreword, Mr. Mitchell has begun to give the reader a feel for the language by quoting simple passages and providing literal translations for them. An excellent introduction, and invitation, to a fascinating language, foreign and yet strangely familiar.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A really interesting book! Oct. 10 2003
By Jesse Williamson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It's been hard work, but I've put in some elbow grease and made it.
A very readable introduction to Old English language, culture, art, and society. Nearly every aspect of Anglo-Saxon life is touched on, supported with carefully cited sources (usually primary), and a good selection of illustrations. The author's sincere passion for Old English always comes through, and he's very good about encouraging the student. When things are going to be a little hard, you're warned that you've got to just slog through it, and you are guided down the path.
Another nice thing about this book that should be pointed out is that it has a lot to offer people who aren't especially interested in learning Old English, but instead more engaged by the culture and life of the Anglo-Saxon people. Mitchell's expositions are fascinating and feature copious examples from both academic literature and primary sources. You don't need to know a lick of Old English to learn a lot from this book!
I would have appreciated a few touches, however. My primary complaint is that the translations often weren't literal enough. While this made them readable, I had to very frequently second-guess the translations while trying my hand at my own, and would have liked more chances to test my work directly to be sure I was on track. I'm not convinced that, especially in the discussions of language directly, I wouldn't have had an easier time with klutzier and more literal examples.
I'd also like to see all-color plates, in a future edition.
All said and done, this was an immensly satisfying process-- I'm not adept at Old English (one never learns a language all at once anyway, and let's face it: how on Earth do you get any practice if you're not in school? Nevermind what the Masters at Oxford do deciding just /how/ to inflect a long-dead tongue), but with every increase in comprehension I felt my understanding of both modern English and German considerably enhanced.
Above all, this was for me-- for now a hobbyist-- exactly the thing I wanted for some self-study. It might be that for you, too. I assure you that the first time you get a snip from Beowulf just right, it will put a big smile in your heart.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exemplary text for an extinct language, grounded in a study of culture Feb. 25 2011
By Arthur Digbee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is classified, I suppose, as an introductory text for the study of Old English. It certainly is that, starting with chapters on spelling, pronunciation, and the like.

At the same time, this book is so much more. Mitchell weaves in chapters on history, archaeology, culture, and literature. Most impressive, he liberally sprinkles Old English texts into these chapters - so, in the middle of the chapter on archaeology he will give you a verse or two from the _Dream of the Rood_.

He's chosen those texts well not just for substance but for ease of reading. These are simple texts that the student will be able to read by the time she comes across them. This approach is highly motivating as the student is learning about Anglo-Saxon England in part by reading Old English texts - *in an introductory book* !

The book concludes with several dozen well-annotated texts and a serviceable dictionary, as found in more conventional language texts. The cultural chapters and the texts complement each other well.

I had studied Old English before finding this book, and I now find it a wonderful refresher whenever I want to return to the language for pleasure. I can't say enough good things about it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mitchell was a Legend July 28 2012
By NewJerseyBede - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
We are fortunate to possess this book: for in it we find the musings and interpretations of one of the most erudite Anglo-Saxonists on an extremely wide variety of topics. A great book for a beginner, but still very interesting to a specialist. Also good for a teacher looking for ways to make the subject of Old English more interesting and accessible to students.
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