(Re)Making Beowulf: Tracing the Influence of James Mercer Garnett's Translation in Late Nineteenth-Century America

Wilson, Julie, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Vander Meulen, David, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia

For too long, scholars of "Beowulf" have focused on its nineteenth-century legacy only in terms of literary and linguistic developments. This gap in contemporary scholarship comes as a surprise, since such research would greatly benefit contemporary discussions within both textual studies and the reception of Old English. Using a generous mixture of analytical bibliography and historical research, this thesis seeks to fill that gap by examining just one of the many "Beowulf" printings that influenced the trajectory of nineteenth-century Old English studies. The book in question is "Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Poem, and the Fight at Finnsburg," a translation of the poem into modern English by James Mercer Garnett (1840-1916) and first published in 1882. There are several benefits to focusing on Garnett’s "Beowulf." Not only was it the first translation to be produced by an American, but it also experienced a long and successful printing run: it was reprinted fourteen times over the course of thirty years and currently survives in at least three hundred copies. Moreover, his translation specifically targeted students who were first encountering "Beowulf" and who needed a guide for understanding the Old English vocabulary and syntax of the poem. This thesis argues that a thorough understanding of the textual features of this translation will bolster contemporary discussions on the history of Old English in the United States.

MA (Master of Arts)
Bibliography, Print culture, Old English, Beowulf, American South, James Mercer Garnett, Ginn & Company, Education
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