The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature

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Anglo-Saxons valued education yet understood how precarious it could be, alternately bolstered and undermined by fear, desire, and memory. They praised their teachers in official writing, but composed and translated scenes of instruction that revealed the emotional and cognitive complexity of learning. In this book I explore how early medieval writers used fictional representations of education to explore the relationship between teacher and student. These texts hint at the challenges of teaching and learning: curiosity, pride, forgetfulness, inattention, and despair. Still, these difficulties are understood to be part of the dynamic process of pedagogy, not simply a sign of its failure. The book demonstrates the enduring concern of Anglo-Saxon authors with learning throughout Old English and Latin poems, hagiographies, histories, and schoolbooks.



1. Letters: Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

2. Prayer: Solomon and Saturn I

3. Violence: Ælfric Bata’s Colloquies

4. Recollection: Andreas

5. Desire: The Life of St Mary of Egypt

Conclusion: The Ends of Teaching



“Through its patient and generous attention to the literature of early medieval England, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon England allows the emotional world of literate Anglo-Saxons to live again in its complexity and richness, and demonstrates how much can be evoked even from seemingly resistant works like grammars and translations. Elegant and stylish as well as learned, it is a lovely exemplar of genuinely humanistic scholarship.”

Dumitrescu has produced a hugely enjoyable, informative, and thought-provoking monograph, which will be of interest to all scholars of early medieval literature.”

“… modern education owes much to a period that fused antique conceptions of education with Christian ascetic practices, generating a complex amalgam of educational techniques and understandings that would, with modification, furnish the materials from which modern educational establishments and relationships were built. Irina Dumitrescu’s study furthers our understanding of this inheritance by exploring the logic of an alien but nonetheless related educational order. As it does so, it draws attention to what has become the disavowed underbelly of modern educational practice, studying the role of suffering and discomfort in Anglo-Saxon scenes of instruction.”

Irina Dumitrescu has written a learned, eloquent, and seminal book that exposes widespread pedagogical metaphors in pre-Conquest writings.”

“Dumitrescu’s readings are meticulous and thought-provoking.”

“This is a book that should be read and digested by all Anglo-Saxonists. It is a model of clarity and well-structured argumentation. It is deeply informed by the author’s wide reading and skill in critical interpretation, and forms a highly significant contribution to the field.”

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