The Making of the English Literary Canon: From the Middle Ages to the Late Eighteenth Century

Capa
McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 2000 - 400 páginas
It is widely accepted among literary scholars that canon-formation began in the eighteenth century when scholarly editions and critical treatments of older works, designed to educate readers about the national literary heritage, appeared for the first time. In The Making of the English Literary Canon Trevor Ross challenges this assumption, arguing that canon-formation was going on well before the eighteenth century but was based on a very different set of literary and cultural values. Covering a period that extends from the Middle Ages to the institutionalisation of literature in the eighteenth century, Ross's comprehensive history traces the evolution of cultural attitudes toward literature in English society, highlighting the diverse interests and assumptions that defined and shaped the literary canon.
An indigenous canon of letters, Ross argues, had been both the hope and aim of English authors since the Middle Ages. Early authors believed that promoting the idea of a national literature would help publicise their work and favour literary production in the vernacular. Ross places these early gestures toward canon-making in the context of the highly rhetorical habits of thought that dominated medieval and Renaissance culture, habits that were gradually displaced by an emergent rationalist understanding of literary value. He shows that, beginning in the late seventeenth century, canon-makers became less concerned with how English literature was produced than with how it was read and received.
By showing that canon-formation has served different functions in the past, The Making of the English Literary Canon is relevant not only to current debates over the canon but also as an important corrective to prevailing views of early modern English literature and of how it was first evaluated, promoted, and preserved.
It is widely accepted among literary scholars that canon-formation began in the eighteenth century when scholarly editions and critical treatments of older works, designed to educate readers about the national literary heritage, appeared for the first time. In The Making of the English Literary Canon Trevor Ross challenges this assumption, arguing that canon- formation was going on well before the eighteenth century but was based on a very different set of literary and cultural values. Covering a period that extends from the Middle Ages to the institutionalisation of literature in the eighteenth century, Ross's comprehensive history traces the evolution of cultural attitudes toward literature in English society, highlighting the diverse interests and assumptions that defined and shaped the literary canon.
An indigenous canon of letters, Ross argues, had been both the hope and aim of English authors since the Middle Ages. Early authors believed that promoting the idea of a national literature would help publicise their work and favour literary production in the vernacular. Ross places these early gestures toward canon-making in the context of the highly rhetorical habits of thought that dominated medieval and Renaissance culture, habits that were gradually displaced by an emergent rationalist understanding of literary value. He shows that, beginning in the late seventeenth century, canon-makers became less concerned with how English literature was produced than with how it was read and received.
By showing that canon-formation has served different functions in the past, The Making of the English Literary Canon is relevant not only to current debates over the canon but also as an important corrective to prevailing views of early modern English literature and of how it was first evaluated, promoted, and preserved.
 

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