Philobiblon: The attractions of Anglo-Saxon

Saturday, September 25, 2004

The attractions of Anglo-Saxon

I've been interested in the Anglo-Saxon scholar Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756) since I read an nice little volume, Before the Bluestockings, Ada Wallas, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1929.

She's a great example of the difficulties under which women could labour to become scholars: when her mother died when Elizabeth was 8 years old, she already knew some Latin, but she then was sent to live with an uncle who had no truck with women's learning, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that she was able to get permission to learn even French.

But she was able finally to move in with her brother in London and acquired knowledge of at least eight languages, one of them Anglo-Saxon, for which she prepared and published a Grammar.

I had thought this was heading off into very esoteric territory, until set straight by Norma Clarke's The Rise and Fall of the Women of Letters, Pimlico, 2004. It says:

"Elstob was making a conscious polemical point. The argument for the vernacular tradition over the classical was of obvious use to women. The established institutions of learning, the Church and the universities, excluded women and rooted scholarship in classical training. [By} quoting a prelate ... handing over possession of the native language 'our mother tongue', to women as their 'proper' concern, Elstob opened up a path for women that was independent of the old forms and practices, and untainted by foreign associations. The Anglo-Saxon grammar was represented in nationalistic terms as an aid to understanding 'our ancient English poets'. Poetry in the vernacular could be freed from the powerful interests of established institutions and function as a vehicle for newly formed modes of working that had not tradition of excluding women." (p.63)

I wonder was this followed up by other women?

More: a bibliography, a good description of her work and a small piece about one of her translations.


Blogger Ronnie Smartt said...

I don't really want to comment on whatever it was for which I have pressed the key or any others of your blogs, which anyway are usually quotations and therefore beyond contemporary discussion, but just to thank you for a range of thoughts and ideas presented with verve. You are a joy.

9/27/2004 12:05:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Ronnie, all compliments most gratefully received!

10/02/2004 10:59:00 pm  

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