- Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
infobox Book |
name = Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
language = English
media_type = Print (Hardback &
isbn = NA
followed_by = Anglo-Saxon Attitudes is a satirical novel by
Angus Wilson, published in 1956. It was Wilson's most popular book, and many consider it his best work. [ "Widely considered Wilson's finest achievement" http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=4746 (Marina MacKay, Washington University in St. Louis, "Sir Angus Wilson," "The Literary Encyclopedia" 8 Jan. 2001.]
The novel recounts the continuing significance of two events that happen, on the same day, prior to the opening of the novel. The first is the excavation of an ancient and valuable archaeological idol, a phallic figure unearthed from the tomb of an Anglo-Saxon bishop, Eorpwald, known as the "Melpham excavation". The second is that Gerald Middleton falls in love with Dollie, the fiancée of his best friend Gilbert, who is involved with the Melpham excavation. Gerald has an affair with Dollie when his friend goes off to fight in WWI, but when Gilbert is killed, Dollie refuses to marry him. Gerald marries a woman named Inge but continues his affair with Dollie, who becomes a slutty alcoholic. Gerald and Inge separate.When the novel opens, Gerald has increasingly suspected that the Melpham find is a hoax, perpetrated to embarrass Gilbert's father. He feels ashamed that he has not investigated the matter thoroughly, which is compounded by his shame in the failures of his romantic life. "Anglo-Saxon Attitudes" is replete with side-plots, coincidences, and a plethora of pompous English characters. The ending is happy: Gerald convinces Dollie to come forward with a letter from Gilbert's father's colleague, Canon Portway, proving that the Melpham incident was a hoax, then he and Dollie reconcile into platonic friendship.
Sources of inspiration
The central theme of the novel was suggested to Wilson from several contemporary archeological disputes, most notably the
Piltdown manhoax (of 1908-1912) and an accusation that the Elgin marbleshad been mishandled by the British Museum, [Notes by Angus Wilson http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/bai/anglo.html] later substantiated. However it also alludes obviously to the Sutton Hooship-burial discovery of 1939, in a country-house setting near Woodbridge, Suffolk. The Melpham discovery is similarly set among the 'East Folk' on the east coast of England. Eorpwald (also the name of the Melpham bishop) is in reality the unique Anglo-Saxon name of the successor of Raedwald, who was popularly thought to have been buried in the famous ship. That discovery, essentially a pagan style of burial in which Christian artefacts were included, raised many disputes among academics (as Angus Wilson was aware).
The novel was made into a three-part television mini-series in 1992 by
Thames Televisionsubsidiary Euston Films. The screenplay was written by Andrew Davies [ The movie was made primarily because Davies got into an argument with ITV over the quality of their programming, and rather heatedly decided to find a good novel that had not been put on film and adapt it himself with a first-class screenplay. ] and Wilson, Tara Fitzgeraldin a supporting role, and a brief appearance by 16-year-old Kate Winslet[ This movie actually led to Winslet attaining the appearance she has in such movies as Sense and Sensibility and Titanic. She had always been heavy and was known as "Blubber" in school. When she saw the film, she realized that she had gotten the role largely because of her resemblance to the overweight actress who played her mother, and also realized how limited her career would be at 180 pounds. She got the assistance of her (real) mother, who herself had spent time in Weight Watchers, and dropped almost 50 pounds. Although hardly svelte, she spent her ingenue years at a time when curvaceous women such as she, Rachel Weisz, and Jennifer Connellyhad returned to popularity. ] . The film won the BAFTA award for best serial drama; Davies and the lead actor, Richard Johnson, also won awards, from the Writers' Guild of Great Britain and the Broadcasting Press Guild, respectively.
The phrase "Anglo-Saxon attitudes"
"Anglo-Saxon attitudes" is a phrase spoofed by
Lewis Carrollin " Through the Looking Glass" (1871):
:"All this was lost on Alice, who was still looking intently along the road, shading her eyes with one hand. 'I see somebody now!' she exclaimed at last. 'But he's coming very slowly—and what curious attitudes he goes into!'
:(For the Messenger kept skipping up and down, and wriggling like an eel, as he came along, with his great hands spread out like fans on each side.)
:'Not at all,' said the King. 'He's an Anglo-Saxon Messenger—and those are Anglo-Saxon attitudes. He only does them when he's happy.'"
Wilson uses part of this quotation at the front of his novel. Lewis Carroll is referring to a ninth to eleventh century style in English drawing, in which the figures are shown in swaying positions with the palms held out in exaggerated positions. [ See, for instance, the
Utrecht Psalter, the Easter Tables (British Library MS Caligula.A.XV) or the Psychomachia of Prudentius(British Library MS Add. 24199). (D. Talbot Rice, "English Art 871-1100", Clarendon Press, Oxford 1952)).]
"Anglo-Saxon Attitudes" has also been used as the title of several subsequent literary works.
When John Maddocks reviewed
Carleton S. Coon's "The Origin of Races" for the first issue of " New York Review of Books" in February 1963, the header was "Anglo-Saxon Attitudes". And when a new museum was opened at Canterbury in Kent, on the site of St. Augustine's abbey, " History Today" headed its report, "Anglo-Saxon Attitudes".
"Anglo-Saxon Attitudes" was also the name of an historical conference "in pursuit of the English" to define the evolution of the English cultural self-image. It was held at the
University of Salford, on July 9–11, 1999.]
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