The plague first arrived in the English port of Weymouth in the summer of 1348. Two years later, half of Britain was dead, but the Black Death was just beginning. In the decades to come, England would suffer recurring outbreaks, social and cultural upheaval, and violent demographic shifts. The pandemic was, by any measure, a massive cultural trauma; however, within the vernacular English literature of the fourteenth century, the response to the disease appears muted, particularly compared to contemporaneous descriptions emerging from mainland Europe. Death and the Pearl Maiden: Plague, Poetry, England asks why one of the singular historical traumas of the later Middle Ages appears to be evoked so fleetingly in fourteenth-century Middle English poetry, a body of work as daring and socially engaged as any in English literary history. By focusing on under-recognized pestilential discourses in Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—the four poems uniquely preserved British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x —this study resists the idea that the Black Death had only a slight impact on medieval English literature, and it strives to account for the understated shape of England’s literary response to the plague and our contemporary understandings of it.
Although we know him as one of the greatest English poets, William Wordsworth might not have become a poet at all without the experience of personal and historical catastrophe in his youth. In Disowned by Memory, David Bromwich connects the accidents of Wordsworth's life with the originality of his writing, showing how the poet's strong sympathy with the political idealism of the age and with the lives of the outcast and the dispossessed formed the deepest motive of his writings of the 1790s.
"This very Wordsworthian combination of apparently low subjects with extraordinary 'high argument' makes for very rewarding, though often challenging reading."—Kenneth R. Johnston, Washington Times
"Wordsworth emerges from this short and finely written book as even stranger than we had thought, and even more urgently our contemporary."—Grevel Lindop, Times Literary Supplement
"[Bromwich's] critical interpretations of the poetry itself offer readers unusual insights into Wordworth's life and work."—Library Journal
"An added benefit of this book is that it restores our faith that criticism can actually speak to our needs. Bromwich is a rigorous critic, but he is a general one whose insights are broadly applicable. It's an intellectual pleasure to rise to his complexities."—Vijay Seshadri, New York Times Book Review