Epistolary Acts: Anglo-Saxon Letters and Early English Media
Published: February 2018© 2018
240 Pages, 6.28 x 9.28 x 0.80 in
As challenging as it is to imagine how an educated cleric or wealthy lay person in the early Middle Ages would have understood a letter (especially one from God), it is even harder to understand why letters would have so captured the imagination of people who might never have produced, sent, or received letters themselves.
In Epistolary Acts, Jordan Zweck examines the presentation of letters in early medieval vernacular literature, including hagiography, prose romance, poetry, and sermons on letters from heaven, moving beyond traditional genre study to offer a radically new way of conceptualizing Anglo-Saxon epistolarity. Zweck argues that what makes early medieval English epistolarity unique is the performance of what she calls “epistolary acts,” the moments when authors represent or embed letters within vernacular texts. The book contributes to a growing interest in the intersections between medieval studies and media studies, blending traditional book history and manuscript studies with affect theory, media studies, and archive studies.
Introduction: Epistolary Acts and The Husband’s Message
Chapter One: Reconstructing the Anglo-Saxon ars dictaminis: Form, Vocabulary, and Immediacy
Chapter Two: Spreading the Word: the Sunday Letter, Mass Communication, and the Self-Replicating Document
Chapter Three: Messengers, Materiality, and Transmission in the Old English Apollonius of Tyre, Letter of Abgar, and Mary of Egypt
Chapter Four: Bodies of Record: Witnessing, Memory, and Erasure in Ælfric’s Life of Basil and the Anonymous Old English Legend of the Seven Sleepers
Epilogue: Epistolary AfterlivesBibliography
"While Old English letters have been largely neglected in the past as being of marginal literary interest and relevance, Zweck demonstrates that epistolarity was deeply engaging to Anglo-Saxon authors and audiences, "even those who may not have produced or received letters themselves." It is to be hoped that this book will stimulate further interest in Anglo-Saxon letters, both Latin and Old English."Hugh Magennis, Queen's University Belfast, Speculum, vol 94 1, Jan 2019
"An exciting cross-fertilization of media and medieval studies, Epistolary Acts assembles Old English representations of epistolarity and communication in a wide-ranging book that will be of interest to scholars of early medieval literature and culture and to theorists of media and communication alike. Zweck is to be applauded for engaging both without losing either rigor or style."Erica Weaver, UCLA, Journal of English and Germanic Philology
"Zweck’s book makes a significant contribution by arguing for a more inclusive understanding of epistolarity in early medieval English texts."Emma Knowles, The University of Sydney, Parergon
"Jordan Zweck brings media studies to bear on early medieval texts in a way that is nothing short of illuminating. Incredibly well conceived, Epistolary Acts showcases Zweck’s skills as a philologist and close reader, and there is a great deal in these chapters that provides new insights on canonical and lesser-known texts alike. This book should garner broad appeal among medievalists, early or late, for its refreshing, original, and thought-provoking treatment of epistolarity in Anglo-Saxon England."David F. Johnson, Department of English, Florida State University
"Jordan Zweck's Epistolary Acts is a wonderful example of how Anglo-Saxonists can use contemporary media theory to improve our understanding of Anglo-Saxon culture. In this well-written and detailed book, Zweck demonstrates convincingly that understanding how contemporary audiences understood ‛the letter’ can greatly enrich our own reading and understanding of these important documents."Daniel Paul O'Donnell, Department of English and University Library, University of Lethbridge