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Community Reviews. Do you know any social or political institutions which they brought, and which, we still cherish? From the literature you have read, what do you know about our Anglo-Saxon ancestors? What virtues did they admire in men? How was woman regarded? Can you compare the Anglo-Saxon ideal of woman with that of other nations, the Romans for instance?

Tell in your own words the general qualities of Anglo-Saxon poetry. How did it differ in its metrical form from modern poetry? What passages seem to you worth learning and remembering? Can you explain why poetry is more abundant and more interesting than prose in the earliest literature of all nations? Tell the story of Beowulf. What appeals to you most in the poem? Why is it a work for all time, or, as the Anglo-Saxons would say, why is it worthy to be remembered?

Note the permanent quality of literature, and the ideals and emotions which are emphasized in Beowulf. Describe the burials of Scyld and of Beowulf. Does the poem teach any moral lesson? Explain the Christian elements in this pagan epic. Name some other of our earliest poems, and describe the one you like best. How does the sea figure in our first poetry? How is nature regarded? What poem reveals the life of the scop or poet? How do you account for the serious character of Anglo-Saxon poetry?

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Compare the Saxon and the Celt with regard to the gladsomeness of life as shown in their literature. What useful purpose did poetry serve among our ancestors? What purpose did the harp serve in reciting their poems? Would the harp add anything to our modern poetry? What is meant by Northumbrian literature? Who are the great Northumbrian writers? What besides the Danish conquest caused the decline of Northumbrian literature? For what is Bede worthy to be remembered? What effect did Christianity have upon Anglo-Saxon literature?

What are the Cynewulf poems? Describe any that you have read. How do they compare in spirit and in expression with Beowulf? Compare the views of nature in Beowulf and in the Cynewulf poems. Describe the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. What is its value in our language, literature, and history?

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Give an account of Alfred's life and of his work for literature. How does Anglo-Saxon prose compare in interest with the poetry? The Normans. The name Norman, which is a softened form of Northman, tells its own story.

The men who bore the name came originally from Scandinavia,--bands of big, blond, fearless men cruising after plunder and adventure in their Viking ships, and bringing terror wherever they appeared. It was these same "Children of Woden" who, under the Danes' raven flag, had blotted out Northumbrian civilization in the ninth century. Later the same race of men came plundering along the French coast and conquered the whole northern country; but here the results were altogether different.

Instead of blotting out a superior civilization, as the Danes had done, they promptly abandoned their own. Their name of Normandy still clings to the new home; but all else that was Norse disappeared as the conquerors intermarried with the native Franks and accepted French ideals and spoke the French language. So rapidly did they adopt and improve the Roman civilization of the natives that, from a rude tribe of heathen Vikings, they had developed within a single century into the most polished and intellectual people in all Europe. The union of Norse and French i.

Roman-Gallic blood had here produced a race having the best qualities of both,--the will power and energy of the one, the eager curiosity and vivid imagination of the other. When these Norman-French people appeared in Anglo-Saxon England they brought with them three noteworthy things: a lively Celtic disposition, a vigorous and progressive Latin civilization, and a Romance language.

The Conquest. At the battle of Hastings the power of Harold, last of the Saxon kings, was broken, and William, duke of Normandy, became master of England. Of the completion of that stupendous Conquest which began at Hastings, and which changed the civilization of a whole nation, this is not the place to speak. We simply point out three great results of the Conquest which have a direct bearing on our literature. Second, they forced upon England the national idea, that is, a strong, centralized government to replace the loose authority of a Saxon chief over his tribesmen. And the world's history shows that without a great nationality a great literature is impossible.

Third, they brought to England the wealth of a new language and literature, and our English gradually absorbed both. For three centuries after Hastings French was the language of the upper classes, of courts and schools and literature; yet so tenaciously did the common people cling to their own strong speech that in the end English absorbed almost the whole body of French words and became the language of the land.

It was the welding of Saxon and French into one speech that produced the wealth of our modern English. Naturally such momentous changes in a nation were not brought about suddenly. At first Normans and Saxons lived apart in the relation of masters and servants, with more or less contempt on one side and hatred on the other; but in an astonishingly short time these two races were drawn powerfully together, like two men of different dispositions who are often led into a steadfast friendship by the attraction of opposite qualities, each supplying what the other lacks.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , which was continued for a century after Hastings, finds much to praise in the conquerors; on the other hand the Normans, even before the Conquest, had no great love for the French nation. After conquering England they began to regard it as home and speedily developed a new sense of nationality. Geoffrey's popular History , [43] written less than a century after the Conquest, made conquerors and conquered alike proud of their country by its stories of heroes who, curiously enough, were neither Norman nor Saxon, but creations of the native Celts.

Thus does literature, whether in a battle song or a history, often play the chief role in the development of nationality. Literary Ideals of the Normans. The change in the life of the conquerors from Norsemen to Normans, from Vikings to Frenchmen, is shown most clearly in the literature which they brought with them to England. The old Norse strength and grandeur, the magnificent sagas telling of the tragic struggles of men and gods, which still stir us profoundly,--these have all disappeared. In their place is a bright, varied, talkative literature, which runs to endless verses, and which makes a wonderful romance out of every subject it touches.

The theme may be religion or love or chivalry or history, the deeds of Alexander or the misdeeds of a monk; but the author's purpose never varies. He must tell a romantic story and amuse his audience; and the more wonders and impossibilities he relates, the more surely is he believed. We are reminded, in reading, of the native Gauls, who would stop every traveler and compel him to tell a story ere he passed on. There was more of the Gaul than of the Norseman in the conquerors, and far more of fancy than of thought or feeling in their literature.

If you would see this in concrete form, read the Chanson de Roland , the French national epic which the Normans first put into literary form , in contrast with Beowulf , which voices the Saxon's thought and feeling before the profound mystery of human life. It is not our purpose to discuss the evident merits or the serious defects of Norman-French literature, but only to point out two facts which impress the student, namely, that Anglo-Saxon literature was at one time enormously superior to the French, and that the latter, with its evident inferiority, absolutely replaced the former.

To understand this curious phenomenon it is necessary only to remember the relative conditions of the two races who lived side by side in England. On the one hand the Anglo-Saxons were a conquered people, and without liberty a great literature is impossible. The inroads of the Danes and their own tribal wars had already destroyed much of their writings, and in their new condition of servitude they could hardly preserve what remained. The conquering Normans, on the other hand, represented the civilization of France, which country, during the early Middle Ages, was the literary and educational center of all Europe.

They came to England at a time when the idea of nationality was dead, when culture had almost vanished, when Englishmen lived apart in narrow isolation; and they brought with them law, culture, the prestige of success, and above all the strong impulse to share in the great world's work and to join in the moving currents of the world's history. Small wonder, then, that the young Anglo-Saxons felt the quickening of this new life and turned naturally to the cultured and progressive Normans as their literary models.

In the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh there is a beautifully illuminated manuscript, written about , which gives us an excellent picture of the literature of the Norman period. In examining it we are to remember that literature was in the hands of the clergy and nobles; that the common people could not read, and had only a few songs and ballads for their literary portion. We are to remember also that parchments were scarce and very expensive, and that a single manuscript often contained all the reading matter of a castle or a village.

Hence this old manuscript is as suggestive as a modern library. It contains over forty distinct works, the great bulk of them being romances. There are a few other works, similarly incongruous, crowded together in this typical manuscript, which now gives mute testimony to the literary taste of the times. Obviously it is impossible to classify such a variety. All the scholarly works of the period, like William of Malmesbury's History , and Anselm's [46] Cur Deus Homo , and Roger Bacon's Opus Majus , the beginning of modern experimental science, were written in Latin; while nearly all other works were written in French, or else were English copies or translations of French originals.

Except for the advanced student, therefore, they hardly belong to the story of English literature. We shall note here only one or two marked literary types, like the Riming Chronicle or verse history and the Metrical Romance, and a few writers whose work has especial significance. Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae is noteworthy, not as literature, but rather as a source book from which many later writers drew their literary materials. Among the native Celtic tribes an immense number of legends, many of them of exquisite beauty, had been preserved through four successive conquests of Britain.

Geoffrey, a Welsh monk, collected some of these legends and, aided chiefly by his imagination, wrote a complete history of the Britons. The "History" is a curious medley of pagan and Christian legends, of chronicle, comment, and pure invention,--all recorded in minute detail and with a gravity which makes it clear that Geoffrey had no conscience, or else was a great joker. As history the whole thing is rubbish; but it was extraordinarily successful at the time and made all who heard it, whether Normans or Saxons, proud of their own country.

It is interesting to us because it gave a new direction to the literature of England by showing the wealth of poetry and romance that lay in its own traditions of Arthur and his knights. Shakespeare's King Lear , Malory's Morte d'Arthur , and Tennyson's Idylls of the King were founded on the work of this monk, who had the genius to put unwritten Celtic tradition in the enduring form of Latin prose.

ITS HISTORY AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Work of the French Writers. The French literature of the Norman period is interesting chiefly because of the avidity with which foreign writers seized upon the native legends and made them popular in England. Until Geoffrey's preposterous chronicle appeared, these legends had not been used to any extent as literary material. Indeed, they were scarcely known in England, though familiar to French and Italian minstrels. Legends of Arthur and his court were probably first taken to Brittany by Welsh emigrants in the fifth and sixth centuries. They became immensely popular wherever they were told, and they were slowly carried by minstrels and story-tellers all over Europe.

Narrativity and enaction: the social nature of literary narrative understanding

Geoffrey met this demand by creating an historical manuscript of Welsh history. That was enough for the age. With Geoffrey and his alleged manuscript to rest upon, the Norman-French writers were free to use the fascinating stories which had been-for centuries in the possession of their wandering minstrels. Geoffrey's Latin history was put into French verse by Gaimar c. From about onward Arthur and Guinevere and the matchless band of Celtic heroes that we meet later in Malory's Morte d' Arthur became the permanent possession of our literature.

Layamon's Brut c. This is the most important of the English riming chronicles, that is, history related in the form of doggerel verse, probably because poetry is more easily memorized than prose. We give here a free rendering of selected lines at the beginning of the poem, which tell us all we know of Layamon, the first who ever wrote as an Englishman for Englishmen, including in the term all who loved England and called it home, no matter where their ancestors were born. Now there was a priest in the land named Layamon.

He was son of Leovenath--may God be gracious unto him. He dwelt at Ernley, at a noble church on Severn's bank. He read many books, and it came to his mind to tell the noble deeds of the English. Then he began to journey far and wide over the land to procure noble books for authority. Pen he took, and wrote on book-skin, and made the three books into one.

Then follows the founding of the Briton kingdom, and the last third of the poem, which is over thirty thousand lines in length, is taken up with the history of Arthur and his knights. If the Brut had no merits of its own, it would still interest us, for it marks the first appearance of the Arthurian legends in our own tongue. A single selection is given here from Arthur's dying speech, familiar to us in Tennyson's Morte d'Arthur. The reader will notice here two things: first, that though the poem is almost pure Anglo-Saxon, [50] our first speech has already dropped many inflections and is more easily read than Beowulf ; second, that French influence is already at work in Layamon's rimes and assonances, that is, the harmony resulting from using the same vowel sound in several successive lines:.

Metrical Romances. Love, chivalry, and religion, all pervaded by the spirit of romance,--these are the three great literary ideals which find expression in the metrical romances. Read these romances now, with their knights and fair ladies, their perilous adventures and tender love-making, their minstrelsy and tournaments and gorgeous cavalcades,--as if humanity were on parade, and life itself were one tumultuous holiday in the open air,--and you have an epitome of the whole childish, credulous soul of the Middle Ages.

The Normans first brought this type of romance into England, and so popular did it become, so thoroughly did it express the romantic spirit of the time, that it speedily overshadowed all other forms of literary expression. Form Though the metrical romances varied much in form and subject-matter, the general type remains the same,--a long rambling poem or series of poems treating of love or knightly adventure or both.

Its hero is a knight; its characters are fair ladies in distress, warriors in armor, giants, dragons, enchanters, and various enemies of Church and State; and its emphasis is almost invariably on love, religion, and duty as defined by chivalry. In the French originals of these romances the lines were a definite length, the meter exact, and rimes and assonances were both used to give melody.

In England this metrical system came in contact with the uneven lines, the strong accent and alliteration of the native songs; and it is due to the gradual union of the two systems, French and Saxon, that our English became capable of the melody and amazing variety of verse forms which first find expression in Chaucer's poetry. Cycles of romances In the enormous number of these verse romances we note three main divisions, according to subject, into the romances or the so-called matter of France, Rome, and Britain.

Originally these romances were called Chansons de Geste ; and the name is significant as indicating that the poems were originally short songs [52] celebrating the deeds gesta of well-known heroes. Later the various songs concerning one hero were gathered together and the Geste became an epic, like the Chanson de Roland , or a kind of continued ballad story, hardly deserving the name of epic, like the Geste of Robin Hood. The matter of Rome consisted largely of tales from Greek and Roman sources; and the two great cycles of these romances deal with the deeds of Alexander, a favorite hero, and the siege of Troy, with which the Britons thought they had some historic connection.

To these were added a large number of tales from Oriental sources; and in the exuberant imagination of the latter we see the influence which the Saracens--those nimble wits who gave us our first modern sciences and who still reveled in the Arabian Nights --had begun to exercise on the literature of Europe. The Matter of Britain To the English reader, at least, the most interesting of the romances are those which deal with the exploits of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table,--the richest storehouse of romance which our literature has ever found.

In preceding sections we have seen how these fascinating romances were used by Geoffrey and the French writers, and how, through the French, they found their way into English, appearing first in our speech in Layamon's Brut. The point to remember is that, while the legends are Celtic in origin, their literary form is due to French poets, who originated the metrical romance. All our early English romances are either copies or translations of the French; and this is true not only of the matter of France and Rome, but of Celtic heroes like Arthur, and English heroes like Guy of Warwick and Robin Hood.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight The most interesting of all Arthurian romances are those of the Gawain cycle, [54] and of these the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is best worth reading, for many reasons. First, though the material is taken from French sources, [55] the English workmanship is the finest of our early romances. Second, the unknown author of this romance probably wrote also "The Pearl," and is the greatest English poet of the Norman period.

Third, the poem itself with its dramatic interest, its vivid descriptions, and its moral purity, is one of the most delightful old romances in any language. In form Sir Gawain is an interesting combination of French and Saxon elements. It is written in an elaborate stanza combining meter and alliteration.

At the end of each stanza is a rimed refrain, called by the French a "tail rime. On New Year's day, while Arthur and his knights are keeping the Yuletide feast at Camelot, a gigantic knight in green enters the banquet hall on horseback and challenges the bravest knight present to an exchange of blows; that is, he will expose his neck to a blow of his own big battle-ax, if any knight will agree to abide a blow in return.

After some natural consternation and a fine speech by Arthur, Gawain accepts the challenge, takes the battle-ax, and with one blow sends the giant's head rolling through the hall. The Green Knight, who is evidently a terrible magician, picks up his head and mounts his horse. He holds out his head and the ghastly lips speak, warning Gawain to be faithful to his promise and to seek through the world till he finds the Green Chapel.

There, on next New Year's day, the Green Knight will meet him and return the blow. The second canto of the poem describes Gawain's long journey through the wilderness on his steed Gringolet, and his adventures with storm and cold, with, wild beasts and monsters, as he seeks in vain for the Green Chapel. On Christmas eve, in the midst of a vast forest, he offers a prayer to "Mary, mildest mother so dear," and is rewarded by sight of a great castle. He enters and is royally entertained by the host, an aged hero, and by his wife, who is the most beautiful woman the knight ever beheld.

Gawain learns that he is at last near the Green Chapel, and settles down for a little comfort after his long quest. The next canto shows the life in the castle, and describes a curious compact between the host, who goes hunting daily, and the knight, who remains in the castle to entertain the young wife. The compact is that at night each man shall give the other whatever good thing he obtains during the day. While the host is hunting, the young woman tries in vain to induce Gawain to make love to her, and ends by giving him a kiss.

When the host returns and gives his guest the game he has killed Gawain returns the kiss. On the third day, her temptations having twice failed, the lady offers Gawain a ring, which he refuses; but when she offers a magic green girdle that will preserve the wearer from death, Gawain, who remembers the giant's ax so soon to fall on his neck, accepts the girdle as a "jewel for the jeopardy" and promises the lady to keep the gift secret.

Here, then, are two conflicting compacts.

When the host returns and offers his game, Gawain returns the kiss but says nothing of the green girdle. The last canto brings our knight to the Green Chapel, after he is repeatedly warned to turn back in the face of certain death. The Chapel is a terrible place in the midst of desolation; and as Gawain approaches he hears a terrifying sound, the grating of steel on stone, where the giant is sharpening a new battle-ax.

The Green Knight appears, and Gawain, true to his compact, offers his neck for the blow.

ENGLISH LITERATURE

Twice the ax swings harmlessly; the third time it falls on his shoulder and wounds him. Whereupon Gawain jumps for his armor, draws his sword, and warns the giant that the compact calls for only one blow, and that, if another is offered, he will defend himself. Then the Green Knight explains things. He is lord of the castle where Gawain has been entertained for days past. The first two swings of the ax were harmless because Gawain had been true to his compact and twice returned the kiss. The last blow had wounded him because he concealed the gift of the green girdle, which belongs to the Green Knight and was woven by his wife.

Moreover, the whole thing has been arranged by Morgain the fay-woman an enemy of Queen Guinevere, who appears often in the Arthurian romances. Full of shame, Gawain throws back the gift and is ready to atone for his deception; but the Green Knight thinks he has already atoned, and presents the green girdle as a free gift.

Gawain returns to Arthur's court, tells the whole story frankly, and ever after that the knights of the Round Table wear a green girdle in his honor. The Pearl. In the same manuscript with "Sir Gawain" are found three other remarkable poems, written about , and known to us, in order, as "The Pearl," "Cleanness," and "Patience.

On the grave of his little one, covered over with flowers, the father pours out his love and grief till, in the summer stillness, he falls asleep, while we hear in the sunshine the drowsy hum of insects and the faraway sound of the reapers' sickles. He dreams there, and the dream grows into a vision beautiful. His body lies still upon the grave while his spirit goes to a land, exquisite beyond all words, where he comes suddenly upon a stream that he cannot cross.

As he wanders along the bank, seeking in vain for a ford, a marvel rises before his eyes, a crystal cliff, and seated beneath it a little maiden who raises a happy, shining face,--the face of his little Margaret. He dares not speak for fear of breaking the spell; but sweet as a lily she comes down the crystal stream's bank to meet and speak with him, and tell him of the happy life of heaven and how to live to be worthy of it.

In his joy he listens, forgetting all his grief; then the heart of the man cries out for its own, and he struggles to cross the stream to join her. In the struggle the dream vanishes; he wakens to find his eyes wet and his head on the little mound that marks the spot where his heart is buried.

From the ideals of these three poems, and from peculiarities of style and meter, it is probable that their author wrote also Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. If so, the unknown author is the one genius of the age whose poetry of itself has power to interest us, and who stands between Cynewulf and Chaucer as a worthy follower of the one and forerunner of the other.

Miscellaneous Literature of the Norman Period. It is well-nigh impossible to classify the remaining literature of this period, and very little of it is now read, except by advanced students. Those interested in the development of "transition" English will find in the Ancren Riwle , i. It is a book of excellent religious advice and comfort, written for three ladies who wished to live a religious life, without, however, becoming nuns or entering any religious orders.

The author was Bishop Poore of Salisbury, according to Morton, who first edited this old classic in Cursor Mundi c. It is interesting as showing a parallel to the cycles of miracle plays, which attempt to cover the same vast ground. They were forming in this age; but we will study them later, when we try to understand the rise of the drama in England. Besides these greater works, an enormous number of fables and satires appeared in this age, copied or translated from the French, like the metrical romances.

The most famous of these are "The Owl and the Nightingale,"--a long debate between the two birds, one representing the gay side of life, the other the sterner side of law and morals,--and "Land of Cockaygne," i. Ballads While most of the literature of the time was a copy of the French and was intended only for the upper classes, here and there were singers who made ballads for the common people; and these, next to the metrical romances, are the most interesting and significant of all the works of the Norman period.

On account of its obscure origin and its oral transmission, the ballad is always the most difficult of literary subjects. Read, for instance, the ballads of the "merrie greenwood men," which gradually collected into the Geste of Robin Hood , and you will understand better, perhaps, than from reading many histories what the common people of England felt and thought while their lords and masters were busy with impossible metrical romances. In these songs speaks the heart of the English folk.

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There is lawlessness indeed; but this seems justified by the oppression of the times and by the barbarous severity of the game laws. An intense hatred of shams and injustice lurks in every song; but the hatred is saved from bitterness by the humor with which captives, especially rich churchmen, are solemnly lectured by the bandits, while they squirm at sight of devilish tortures prepared before their eyes in order to make them give up their golden purses; and the scene generally ends in a bit of wild horse-play.

There is fighting enough, and ambush and sudden death lurk at every turn of the lonely roads; but there is also a rough, honest chivalry for women, and a generous sharing of plunder with the poor and needy. All literature is but a dream expressed, and "Robin Hood" is the dream of an ignorant and oppressed but essentially noble people, struggling and determined to be free. Lyrics Far more poetical than the ballads, and more interesting even than the romances, are the little lyrics of the period,--those tears and smiles of long ago that crystallized into poems, to tell us that the hearts of men are alike in all ages.

Of these, the best known are the "Luve Ron" love rune or letter of Thomas de Hales c. Summary of the Norman Period. The Normans were originally a hardy race of sea rovers inhabiting Scandinavia. In the tenth century they conquered a part of northern France, which is still called Normandy, and rapidly adopted French civilization and the French language. The literature which they brought to England is remarkable for its bright, romantic tales of love and adventure, in marked contrast with the strength and somberness of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

During the three centuries following Hastings, Normans and Saxons gradually united. The Anglo-Saxon speech simplified itself by dropping most of its Teutonic inflections, absorbed eventually a large part of the French vocabulary, and became our English language. English literature is also a combination of French and Saxon elements. The three chief effects of the conquest were 1 the bringing of Roman civilization to England; 2 the growth of nationality, i.

At first the new literature was remarkably varied, but of small intrinsic worth; and very little of it is now read. In our study we have noted: 1 Geoffrey's History, which is valuable as a source book of literature, since it contains the native Celtic legends of Arthur. These were numerous, and of four classes: a the Matter of France, tales centering about Charlemagne and his peers, chief of which is the Chanson de Roland; b Matter of Greece and Rome, an endless series of fabulous tales about Alexander, and about the Fall of Troy; c Matter of England, stories of Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwick, Robin Hood, etc.

The best of these romances is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The ordinary student will get a better idea of the literature of the period by using the following: Sir Gawain, modernized by J. Lanier's Boy's Mabinogion i. Text-book , Montgomery, pp. For fuller treatment, Green, ch. Jusserand; Ten Brink; Mitchell, vol. Texts, Translations, etc. The Belles Lettres Series, sec. What did the Northmen originally have in common with the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes? What brought about the remarkable change from Northmen to Normans?

Tell briefly the story of the Norman Conquest. How did the Conquest affect the life and literature of England? What types of literature were produced after the Conquest? How do they compare with Anglo-Saxon literature? What works of this period are considered worthy of a permanent place in our literature? What is meant by the Riming Chronicles? What part did they play in developing the idea of nationality?

What led historians of this period to write in verse? Describe Geoffrey's History. What was its most valuable element from the view point of literature? What is Layamon's Brut? Why did Layamon choose this name for his Chronicle? What special literary interest attaches to the poem? What were the Metrical Romances?

What reasons led to the great interest in three classes of romances, i. Matters of France, Rome, and Britain? What new and important element enters our literature in this type? Read one of the Metrical Romances in English and comment freely upon it, as to interest, structure, ideas, and literary quality. Tell the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. What French and what Saxon elements are found in the poem? He compares these American representations with those from other national contexts, as well as its treatment in the field of children's literature.

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