Anglo-Saxon Attitudes

Above: Statue (1902) in Winchester by Hamo Thornycroft: ( Alfred, also spelled Aelfred, byname Alfred the Great, (born 849—died 899), king of Wessex (871–899), a Saxon kingdom in southwestern England. He prevented England from falling to the Danes and promoted learning and literacy. Compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle began during his reign, circa 890. Though not Alfred’s work, the Chronicle, one of the greatest sources of information about Saxon England, may have its origin in the intellectual interests awakened by the revival of learning under him.

From Wikipedia:

” “Anglo-Saxon attitudes” is a phrase originated by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass (1871):

“All this was lost on Alice, who was still looking intently along the road, shading her eyes with one hand. ‘I see somebody now!’ she exclaimed at last. ‘But he’s coming very slowly—and what curious attitudes he goes into!’

(For the Messenger kept skipping up and down, and wriggling like an eel, as he came along, with his great hands spread out like fans on each side.)

‘Not at all,’ said the King. ‘He’s an Anglo-Saxon Messenger—and those are Anglo-Saxon attitudes. He only does them when he’s happy.'”

(Anglo-Saxon Attitudes is a satirical novel by Angus Wilson, published in 1956. It was Wilson’s most popular book, and many consider it his best work.)

Wilson uses part of this quotation at the front of his novel. Lewis Carroll is referring to a ninth- to eleventh-century style in English drawing, in which the figures are shown in swaying positions with the palms held out in exaggerated positions.

The theme of the novel was suggested to Wilson by archeological disputes, notably the Piltdown man hoax (1908–1912) and an accusation that the Elgin marbles had been mishandled by the British Museum, later substantiated. The book alludes to the Sutton Hoo ship-burial discovery of 1939, in a country-house setting near Woodbridge, Suffolk. The Melpham discovery is similarly set among the ‘East Folk’ on the east coast of England. Eorpwald (also the name of the Melpham bishop) is in reality the unique Anglo-Saxon name of the successor of Raedwald, who was popularly thought to have been buried in the famous ship. That discovery, essentially a pagan style of burial in which Christian artefacts were included, raised many disputes among academics (as Angus Wilson knew).

The novel was made into a three-part television mini-series in 1992 by the Thames Television subsidiary Euston Films. The screenplay was written by Andrew Davies and featured Richard Johnson in the role of Gerald Middleton. Tara Fitzgerald played a major supporting role as the young Dollie and there were appearances by a 16-year-old Kate Winslet, and by Daniel Craig as Gilbert. The film won the BAFTA award for best serial drama; Davies and Johnson also won awards from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and the Broadcasting Press Guild respectively. The series is available on DVD in both the UK and USA.

The movie was allegedly made primarily because Davies got into an argument with ITV over the quality of their programmes and rather heatedly decided to find a good novel that had not been put on film and adapt it himself with a first-class screenplay.”

“…Together they figure, each in a singular manner, the revolutionary idea of living backwards. To recall the Queen’s words: ‘That’s the effect of living backwards… [T]here’s the King’s Messenger. He’s in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn’t even begin till next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.’ With the hat (‘In this style 10/6’) and with the recognizableness of the Hatter (more pronounced and therefore perhaps preferred in the originally published engraving), this double-picture opens up a cryptic new path or passageway between the books, concerning the thought of novels and pictures as embodiments of living backwards…”

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