“A Fine Old Tale of Adventure”: Beowulf told to the children of the english race, 1898–1908

2016-03-11T14:07:17Z (GMT) by Lise Jaillant
When publishers started marketing the tale of Beowulf to a large audience of children (and adults) in the 1880s, they capitalized on the aura of the Middle Ages by selling editions with golden titles, decorated initials and reproductions of medieval drawings. The medievalizing aspect of these children’s books offered a suitable format for a tale presented as the founding text in English literature. This article argues that the heroic and nationalistic ideology of these early versions is anchored in their material aspect. The analysis of three juvenile adaptations first published between 1898 and 1908 – A. J. Church’s Heroes of Chivalry and Romance, Thomas Cartwright’s Brave Beowulf, and H. E. Marshall’s Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children – shows that their ‘bibliographic code’ was closely intertwined with archaic translations inspired by nineteenth-century Anglo-Saxon scholarship.