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Reading the Anglo-Saxon Self Through the Vercelli Book


Amity Reading

Reading the Anglo-Saxon Self Through the Vercelli Book explores conceptions of subjectivity in Anglo-Saxon England by analyzing the contents and sources of the Vercelli Book, a tenth-century compilation of Old English religious poetry and prose. The Vercelli Book’s selection and arrangement of texts has long perplexed scholars, but this book argues that its organizational logic lies in the relationship of its texts to the performance of selfhood. Many of the poems and homilies represent subjectivity through "soul-and-body," a popular medieval literary motif that describes the soul’s physical departure from the body at death and its subsequent addresses to the body. Vercelli’s soul-and-body texts, together with its exemplary narratives of apostles and saints, construct a model of selfhood that is embodied and performative, predicated upon an interdependent relationship between the soul and the body in which the body has the potential for salvific action. The book thus theorizes an Anglo-Saxon conception of the self that challenges modern assumptions of a rigid soul/body dualism in medieval religious and literary tradition. Its arguments will therefore be of interest to students and scholars of literature, history, philosophy, and religious studies and would be appropriate for upper-level courses on Old English literature, Anglo-Saxon history, sermons and preaching in medieval England, and medieval religious practice.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Reading, Amity, author. Title: Reading the Anglo-Saxon self through the Vercelli Book / Amity Reading. Description: New York: Peter Lang, 2018. Series: Medieval interventions; vol. 7 ISSN 2376-2683 (print) | ISSN 2376-2691 (online) Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017013138 | ISBN 978-1-4331-4054-9 (hardback: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4331-4055-6 (ebook pdf) | ISBN 978-1-4331-4056-3 (epub) ISBN 978-1-4331-4057-0 (mobi) Subjects: LCSH: Vercelli book. English literature—Old English, ca. 450–1100—Criticism, Textual. Self (Philosophy) in literature. | Christian literature, English (Old)—History and criticism. Christianity and literature—England—History—To 1500. Civilization, Anglo-Saxon, in literature. | Civilization, Medieval, in literature. Classification: LCC PR1495 .R43 2018 | DDC 829/.09—dc23 LC record available at DOI 10.3726/b12683

Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at

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