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J. A. Burrow (1932–2017)

Forfatter af A book of Middle English

16+ Works 584 Members 6 Reviews

Om forfatteren

John Burrow is Emeritus Professor and Research Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Bristol.

Omfatter også følgende navne: J. A. Burrow, John Anthony Burrow

Image credit: Burrow pictured with his late wife, Diana Wynne Jones


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Associated Works

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1380) — Redaktør, nogle udgaver7,851 eksemplarer
Readings in Medieval English romance (1994) — Bidragyder — 1 eksemplar

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A very well written and readable book of literary criticism, but who or what is its target audience

It is sometimes difficult to know what to expect from a book of literary criticism that does not clearly state its purpose in its under title. The subjects of the book are the four canonical poets of the late 14th century and I was hoping that Burrow would be discussing aspects of their poetry and style. This was not described as an introduction and so I was looking for some insightful criticism aimed at a reader familiar with the 14th century texts. I had noticed the book was only 141 pages with an additional 17 pages of notes and references and so I was not expecting a comprehensive review. I had hoped however to discover some fresh ideas that would enhance my enjoyment of the poetry.

I became a little wary of Burrow's intentions when he launched straight away into making a case for labelling these four poets: The Ricardian Poets. A useful label yes, but to spend ten pages justifying your choice (perhaps with one eye on posterity) is a bit like playing to the gallery. It does however provide Burrows with a modus operandi, because the task he has set himself is to demonstrate enough similarities in these texts to justify his addition to the nomenclature of poets.

In the first chapter "Ricardian Style" Burrows says that all the poets in their various ways find time to address the audience directly, a throw back to when most poetry was oral in nature. The poets were generally self-depreciating and all prone to dullness. They submit more docilely than their successors to the constraints of idiom, rhythm, rhyme and alliteration. In his second chapter Burrows discusses; reasons for the divisions within the larger poems, the level of detail chosen, the use of literary rather than allegorical form and the preference for the exemplum. At this point well over the half way mark I took a step back and concluded it had been interesting enough, but hardly more than an intelligent reader familiar with the text could have gleaned for him/herself.

It was not until the third chapter: An Image of Man (p93) that Burrows really grabbed my attention. Here he discusses the avoidance of heroic figures, the concentration on the seasons cycles and individuals humbling confrontation with more than human or all encompassing power. He discusses the use of humour and the diversity of the reactions of individuals to different circumstances. He goes on to take Arnold's famous point that Chaucer lacks high and excellent seriousness and shows how this could be said of the other poets. It is not until chapter four: Conclusion, just ten pages from the end that Burrows discusses poetic style in any detail by discussing the use of similes. This is excellent stuff and made the reading of this book worthwhile for me.

Burrows final two sentences are interesting:

"The present book can hardly claim to represent 1971, let alone 2000. Critics who stand more outside the English "art tradition" than I do will no doubt be able to frame hypotheses which will represent more truly and explain more powerfully the various characteristics exhibited by poets of the Ricardian period. But I hope to have established at least that it is in something like the full literary sense, a period".

There he is still banging on about his idea of the Ricardian Poets. A cautious recommendation
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baswood | 1 anden anmeldelse | Jul 3, 2011 |
This anthology was published in 1969 and so the section entitled modern views does not contain the most recent criticism. However it is still a valuable source of knowledge. The contemporaneous criticism and The developing debate sections provide a history of Chaucer crticism, which is fascinating. Ctiticism of the 18th and 19th century's tended to go for broad sweep approach rather than the detailed analysis of modern times, however the ideas and conclusions were no less insightful and have provided modern criticism with a base from which to start. John Dryden's "from the Preface to the fables" (1700) and William Hazlit's "On Chaucer and Spenser; I found particularly enlightening. The modern views contains extracts fom some famous literary critics ie; Charles Muscatine, W K Wimsatt, A C Spearing etc, giving the reader a chance to dip into the mind set of theses critics.

If your interested in Chaucer and see this book in a second hand shop you will not be wasting your time reading it.
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baswood | Oct 19, 2010 |
This is one of my two favorite books on the Ricardian era, mainly because it gives Chaucer, Gower, the Gawain-Pearl poet and Langland equal weight. Most others privilege Chaucer.
medievalmama | 1 anden anmeldelse | Mar 28, 2008 |


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