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Old English Literature: A Short Introduction

Old English LiteratureBy Daniel Donoghue
Review by Ellen (English)

For me, one of the most intimidating aspects of the English course at Oxford was the prospect of studying Old English – the thought of working through the other periods itself was hard enough, but doing one in a completely different, unfamiliar language seemed terrifying! Faced with this possibility, one afternoon in a second-hand bookshop in my hometown I picked up a copy of Daniel Donoghue’s Old English Literature: A Short Introduction. What was initially complete chance, chosen with the hope of gleaning some insight into a culture which was completely alien came to form the foundation of my understanding about this topic – you can imagine my shock when the same book later turned out to be on my first year reading list.

Through his easily digestible prose, Donoghue provides a fascinating, detailed, yet easily accessible insight into the world of the Anglo-Saxons, bringing their culture alive with a detailed social commentary and literary critique that still resonates with a modern reader. The book is divided into five sections, each dealing with a different aspect of society; “The Vow”, “The Hall”, “The Miracle”, “The Pulpit” and “The Scholar”. Each of these chapters come together to create an extremely solid basis of the basic constituents of the Anglo-Saxon world, each a vital element to be considered when studying the literature of the period. This book introduced me to many of the texts I ended up studying during my first year, and was a resource to which I returned to again and again – it’s simplified, but critically intelligent analysis of the language used in Old English literature, along with the social background to the texts, was endlessly useful.

I read Old English Literature: A Short Introduction, before I started studying at Oxford, and found it an immensely helpful way to bridge the gap between school and university. It piqued my interest in a subject area directly relevant to my course in an engaging, relevant and understandable manner, and opened my eyes to the fascinating world of early British culture.

Old English Literature: A Short Introduction by Daniel Donoghue
ISBN-10: 0470776803
ISBN-13: 9780631234869

Try checking the availability of this book at your school or local library or explore second hand bookshops and websites. You may also wish to purchase from either Amazon or Blackwell’s.

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