lunes, 24 de septiembre de 2012

Anglo-Saxon Britain by Grant Allen


Anglo-Saxon Britain by Grant Allen is a book that now comes free via Amazon Kindle, so there is absolutely no excuse for not reading it, especially when such editions can be downloaded to and read from an ordinary personal computer, at zero cost and complete convenience. This is not an advertisement, except, of course, for the book.

Anglo-Saxon Britain ought to compulsory reading for all narrow-minded nationalists, Little Englanders, British national types, English leaguers and any other set of racial purity head-bangers, plus absolutely anyone who might even suggest that isolationism is either beneficial for or a natural state of the English. Anglo-Saxon Britain is not a new book, and hence does not cover any aspects of ethnology that have been developed since the arrival of DNA analysis. Anglo-Saxon Britain is thus an old-fashioned review and analysis of available historical documents and sources. But, in a succinct and wonderfully readable form, it succeeds in summarising the issue’s complexity and communicating a beautifully rounded picture of a thoroughly complicated reality.

The English - and their Saxon and Jutish cousins – were, of course, invaders, originating in what we now call Germany, Denmark and Holland. What they brought to a Romanised, at least in part already Christian and largely unified land was barbarism, paganism and continual warfare. What they also brought with them – or at least the Angels did – was their language, a form of low German with gendered nouns that had case endings and verbs that declined into multiple forms But the general structure of that language endured, endured as its complexities of form gradually disappeared whilst its complexity of potential nuance grew. Its vocabulary welcomed successive waves of foreign invaders and its aesthetic adopted the more civilised ways of other foreigners from southern Europe.

The Danes also deserve a mention, of course, since they ruled most of what we now call England for much of the Anglo-Saxon period. And the Welsh and Celts, indigenous people, but only in a relative sense, were not only subjugated but contributed in their own way to the wholly complicated and, frankly mixed up, gene pool through inter-marriage. The point is made repeatedly that perhaps the most English – as far as the original form and sound of the language is concerned – is still spoken by the Lothians of modern-day Scotland, since the Angel settlers there were the least affected by subsequent waves of invasion.

What we do know about the English – very little, it has to be said, since they wrote down almost nothing about themselves – is that they rarely cooperated, except at the tribal or clan level, constantly bickered and argued, regularly fought one another and spent very little time on more civilised pursuits. At least some things have endured.

Anglo-Saxon Britain by Grant Allen does not trade any myths. It presents a learned, well researched and referenced account of the politics, the conflicts, the culture and language of the early English. It reminds us that the last English person to occupy the English throne was Harold in 1066 and he succumbed to an immigrant from continental Europe who moved in and made the place his own, perhaps improving it along the way. The book is superbly entertaining as well as informative, erudite and learned, but also lean, stimulating and succinct. Its sections on the language, alone, render it essential reading for anyone who is the least bit interested in English or the English.


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