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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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I owe many debts of gratitude. I received a development grant from Albion College in 2012, and I received both a grant and the time to use it from DePauw University in 2016, without which I could not have finished this book. My initial research was completed with the support of the graduate program in English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, under the excellent tutelage of Charles D. Wright, whom I cannot thank enough. He is an inspiring scholar and a gifted mentor, and I would have been lost without his insights and his proof-reading skills. I would also like to thank my other graduate advisors, Renée R. Trilling, Martin Camargo, Thomas N. Hall, and Robert W. Barrett for their many helpful suggestions, and my undergraduate mentor, William Veeder, who first showed me close reading.

I would like to thank Stephanie Clark and Shannon N. Godlove, with whom I spent many hours discovering the joys of Old English, and Kyle J. Williams for his conversations and his last-minute fact-checking. I owe a special thanks to Anthony J. Pollock, whose patience, guidance, and support over the years has been essential.

I also owe a debt to the organizers and attendees of the International Medieval Congress (Leeds), and the International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo), for the many opportunities to present and discuss the ← xi | xii → texts and ideas that eventually became this book. There is material in all five chapters that was formally...

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