Help, I'm being attacked by English literature!

I just picked up the Norton Anthology of English Literature (fifth edition) at a used bookstore.

It’s got stuff from pretty much every English author of the last six hundred years — not comprehensive, of course, but certainly representative.

Just from the table of contents: Caedmon’s Hymn, Beowulf. Chaucer (Canterbury Tales). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Piers Plowman. Margery Kempe. Sir Thomas Mallory (selections from Morte Darthur). Sir Thomas More. John Skelton. Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Sir Philip Sidney. Edmund Spencer. Sir Walter Raleigh. Christopher Marlowe. William Shakespeare (mostly sonnets). Thomas Nashe. Arthur Golding, Mary (Sidney) Herbert, Queen Elizabeth I. George Gascoigne, Robert Southwell, Thomas Campion. Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Sir John Davies. Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke. Lady Mary Wroth. Roger Ascham. Richard Hooker. John Donne. Ben Jonson. Robert Herrick. George Herbert. Richard Crashaw. Henry Vaughan. Andrew Marvell. John Milton (Paradise Lost).

Bacon, Burton, Hobbes, Locke, Newton. Dryden, Pepys, Congreve, Swift. Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele. Pope, Samuel Johnson, James Boswell.

And that’s Volume I, up through 1800 or so.

Anybody have any advice on how to tackle this? Got any favorites? Comments? Anybody wanna have an English Literature reading and discussion thread?

I’m not really doing it for anything, except that I’ve not read much of it, and I figure it’d be fun and enlightening and horizon-broadening, and all that jazz. Given the choice between disposable reality TV and poetry that has stood the test of time, I’m choosing the books.

Who’s with me!? :smiley:

I just dropped in to say that I lived in Olympia for six years, and greatly miss drinking beer at the Fish Tale. Back in the late-'80s I visited a friend at TESC whose dorm had a party featuring some barely-competent local band called “Nirvana,” who seemed to play a lot of Pixies and CCR covers. I remember getting stoned with their very shy singer. Who knew?

Ah, the Norton!

O, Beloved Norton, still proud on my living room bookshelf (I hide the Stephen King in the den).

I’m with you.

Start at the beginning and keep turning the pages! Basically. (Stupid Norton. Expensive as hell and it weighs a ton.)

Any preference for how you want to read? Chronologically? By theme? By form (i.e. plays, followed by poetry, followed by prose, etc.)? Do you just want to hit the most well-known bits or the more obscure pieces? All the different ways you can read the collection have their assets along with their drawbacks. Any preferences at all?

Personally, if I were you, I’d skip the Volume I and go straight to Volume II, because I vastly prefer the 19th century to everything before it. Except maybe ol’ Willie S. himself.

As for an English literature read-along or discussion, I’d be up for that, if there was enough lead time to track down whatever it was we’re reading.

Our son is almost 8 years old. We had until recently been having a very hard time getting him to read; it wasn’t that he was unable, just that he was unwilling. Lately, things have taken a turn for the better, since we discovered the *Stepping Stones Classics *collection, and so recently he has read children’s versions The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, Frankenstein, and (his favorite so far) The Last of the Mohicans.

So, earlier this week, **Rhiannon8404 **took him to the library. He brought home a Magic Schoolbus video, a book about ancient Mesopotamia, and…

Beowulf.

I love my kid!

Ah, the Norton Anthology of English Literature. I had to buy it (both volumes) for a lit. class my freshman year of college. A few years later, I went back to them and started exploring on my own, spending about 10-30 minutes a day with it. Basically, I’d pick a writer that looked interesting, start by reading his biographical introduction, then read through the works by that particular writer, with a hiliter pen handy to mark the phrases, sentences, stanzas, whole poems, etc. I particularly liked. I also marked off what I’d read, and indicated what I’d liked, in the table of contents, so I could keep track of whom I’d explored and whom I hadn’t gotten to yet.

I’m half-tempted to dig them out and find out which writers I liked; but of course, your tastes won’t necessarily match mine.

If you run out, there are also Nortons for American Lit, and others.

Ooh, fun! Have you got the old edition (with Henry IV, Part One) or the new one (with Twelfth Night and King Lear?)

If you have the new one, it should have Marie de France’s “Lanval,” which is fun. Sir Gawain is excellent. Malory is wonderful, but the selections in the Norton are rather skimpy – I’d recommend getting the complete works and, at a minimum, reading The Tale of King Arthur, The Tale of Sir Gareth, The Book of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, and The Morte Arthur. Piers Plowman is eminently skipable unless you’re a grad student in the field. The Second Shepherd’s Play is well worth reading, and Margery Kempe, though she is clearly on crack, is a reasonably interesting sort of crack.

As for the Renaissance stuff – I’d probably concentrate on the plays and the lyric poetry, though if you want to do a longer poem, Marlowe’s Hero and Leander is worth a read. Wyatt is deliciously bitter. Do not miss Jonson’s “On My First Son” (possibly the saddest poem in the English language) or Donne’s very sexy “Elegy 19.” Herrick is fun; Herbert is a difficult read, but worth it if you don’t mind untangling tight knots of religious imagery. Paradise Lost is one of those poems people either love or hate, but regardless, you should probably give it a try to see which category you fall into. I’m sort of iffy about the merits of reading 1 Henry IV without the other history plays or any further background (assuming you’ve got the older edition), but Dr. Faustus and The Duchess of Malfi are pretty accessible, and the latter has got some of the best villains ever.

Oh, you said you had the fifth edition. Duh. You’d think with all these English degrees I would know how to read…

I was cheap and bought it in paperback. Of course it was so massive it promptly split apart at the spine but hey, a little duct tape and Elmer’s glue and it was almost as good as…well, it was a mess.

You’re a stronger person than I, Miss Purl. I usually read my textbooks from beginning to end, even for survey courses that didn’t require it, just because I paid extortionate campus bookstore prices for the damned things. Anyway, the various Nortons defeated that approach. Just starting-at-the-beginning and muscling forth gave me a bad case of mental indigestion. (Leads to brain farts, doncha know.)

I had better luck browsing in small chunks. It’s an ideal night stand book, in fact. The sections are relatively small, some of 'em take root when exhaustion (or whatever) pummeled my brain into receptiveness…and the rest put me right to sleep.

Big yepper on that one. I’m awed by the historic literary pageant but don’t necessarily want to get archeaological on its ass.

I’ve always been partial to the poetry of Thomas Wyatt. (One of my favorite poems is his translation of Petrarch’s Rima.)

Chaucer is always fun, naughty, irreverent and humorous. Hopefully you anthology includes “The Wife of Bath,” probably one of the most entertaining and well-known of the tales.

Queen Elizabeth, as much as I admire her statesman ship, has never impressed me as a writer. Her motto should have been, “Why use one word when you can use ten to comvey the same meaning?”

Yes. On my lunch breaks. :slight_smile:

As for what I’m sifting through right now, apart from skipping around a bit and reading some Harold Pinter (“The Dumb Waiter”) and some Wilfred Owen, I’ve set my sights on trudging through the Canterbury Tales.

It’s not difficult going yet, even though it’s the Middle English version (with notes). I just have to read it aloud with a bit of an accent and it’s much more understandable that way. You can really see the German and French root words in that Middle English, cain’tcha?

I’ve just begin the Canterbury Tales in earnest, and I’m still in the Prologue. (I got the two-volume set right at the end of my lunch break for about twelve bucks.)

Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were two of my favorites. Spencer was difficult but rewarding — don’t read it all at once, it’s very rich. Hobbes was just plain difficult; I knew what he was saying was important, but he has a crabbed writing style that keeps sentences moving sideways instead of forward.

The more I read Shakespeare, the more beautiful the language becomes.

Sir Philip Sydney!

Shakespeare is sort of the Beatles of English literature; he’s the general default for “the greatest [fill in genre here].” For my money, though, Philip Sydney is superior to Shakespeare as a technical sonnet creator. (I assume the included selections are from Astrophil and Stella).

Reading sonnets is a tough thing to get used to; I suggest reading them out loud, slowly and with emphasis. His sonnets are jaw-droppingly wonderful; if you look at a few of them and they pique your interest, read a quick biography of him, and then start on the full body of Astrophil and Stella. If you’re still breathing after that, try The Defense of Poesy, and if that doesn’t kill you, advance to his proto-novel (The) Old Arcadia.

By this time, your enthusiasm should be flagging. If it’s not, see a doctor; once you’re found to be of sound mind and body (get a note, please), write me and I’ll direct you to some of the fantastic stuff that draws on/references Sydney, from The Adventures of Master F. J. to the Pixies.

Interesting. The Sixth edition splits the difference and combines Henry IV with Lear.

There’s also the Norton Anthology - The Major Authors.

Ah, I’ve got the fifth and seventh editions. I didn’t realize the Shakespeare section was in such a continual state of flux.

I’ve read several of Shakespeare’s plays (and performed in one, and wrote music for an adaptation of another one) so I’m not wholly unfamiliar with him or his language.

Since the Norton is in two volumes, maybe I’ll keep V.I in the car, and put V.II at home in the bathroom, because you know, if I’ve got #2 there, I’ve probably also got #1.

See if it has Charles Lamb’s charming essay “Old China.” That would be mid-nineteenth century.

There’s one poem that I highly recommend just for the :eek: :smiley: factor. It’s in the Elizabethan section, but I can’t remember the author. I do know he was a notorious rake and the poem is him lamenting that his raking days are over due to, oh shall we say a “social disease.”

I wish I could be more specific, but I have an older version of the Norton and it’s not in my edition. :frowning:

You have some real delights in store.

George Gascoigne, absolutely wonderful poet, read The Green Knight’s Farewell to Fancy.

Thomas Nashe, one of the funniest Elizabethan writers, especially in his pamphlet war with Gabriel Harvey. Try Have With Thee To Saffron Walden. The Choice of Valentines is good too, very filthy (and also the first appearance of the word dildo in the English language.)

Spenser. What can I say? The Prince of Poets. The poet’s Poet. If The Faerie Queene daunts, start with Muiopotmos, or The Fate of the Butterfie.

Of all the race of silver-wingèd flies,
That do possess the empire of the air …

John Milton. Again, what can one say? A giant. Try L’Allegro and Il Penseroso first, then the sonnets, before the main epic course.

John Dryden. One of the most important figures in English Literature. A brilliant dramatist and a satiric poet and lyricist of genius. Read Absalom and Achitophel, MacFlecknoe, and the marvellous translations of Virgil’s Aeneid, Juvenal’s Satires, etc.

The secrets of the Goddess called the Good
Are even by boys and barbers understood,
Where the rank matrons, dancing to the pipe,
Jig with their bums, and are for action ripe;
With music raised, they spread abroad their hair,
And toss their heads like an enamoured mare.

I could go on for ever. As you can probably tell, I love this stuff.

Happy reading, and if you want to start a thread on the subject I’ll be glad to contribute.

And then there’s “The Vine” by Robert Herrick. I went to a smallish Christian university, and that one caused a few sniggers in my freshman lit survey. :wink:

I love Herbert’s poems and imagery. I also like the Old English stuff; I think it’s interesting to see some of the roots of our language, and to see how it developed.

You should also check out Sir Thomas More’s writings, and then read (or see the excellent movie of) A Man for All Seasons.

I’m just looking at the table of contents for my Norton (I have the 6th edition), and there are so many lovely sonnets by so many people! Maybe I should just leave this out by the bed and read little bits of it regularly; thanks for the idea!