On an Anglo-Saxon masterpiece, Virginia Woolf & the notion of fair play.
Recent links of note:
“An Anglo-Saxon Celebration of the Senses in Silver”
Jane Coombs, The Wall Street Journal
In this week’s Masterpiece column for The Wall Street Journal, Jane Coombs, an arts writer and The New Criterion’s ninth Hilton Kramer Fellow, examines the intricacies of Anglo-Saxon metalwork found in the British Museum’s Fuller Brooch. One of Britain’s foremost surviving Anglo-Saxon artifacts, the Fuller Brooch, crafted in the late ninth century from silver and niello, depicts a “dynamic scheme of plants, animals, and humans” from the period of Anglo-Saxon cultural revival that took place under Alfred the Great (848–99), the ruler of Wessex, and, later, all Anglo-Saxons. The brooch’s scenes show five human figures representing the five senses, with the greatest emphasis placed on sight, as seen in the central figure’s large, open eyes. This is for good reason: Anglo-Saxons appraised sight, the sense with which one reads scripture, to be the most important of the five. Coombs writes that this masterpiece of the “Alfredian Renaissance” is a celebration of “man’s place within creation.”
“On Not Knowing Greek”
Virginia Woolf, Antigone
Upon the one-hundredth anniversary of “On Not Knowing Greek,” Virginia Woolf’s meditation on the “magical strangeness” of the language has been reproduced in an online article by the editors of Antigone. Though she could often seem a snobby “high-priestess of modernist literature,” as Richard Howells described her in The New Criterion’s September issue, Woolf was captivated by the mystery of the Greek classics and the ancient culture of arts and letters they transmitted. Though Ancient Greek language and culture can’t be fully known, Woolf writes, we still find ourselves returning to it, longing for it. There is to be found in the remnants of Greek culture the “stable, the permanent, the original human being.” The man of the present has a primitive connection to the man of ancient Greece, and from this we understand the Greeks of Electra and Antigone “more easily and more directly than we understand the characters in the Canterbury Tales.”
“Good chaps: How the English upper classes appropriated fair play from the lower orders”
Ferdinand Mount, Times Literary Supplement
“England is particularly famous for the most generous way of Fighting in the World,” recounted Daniel Defoe in 1705 on the morals of the English “rabble.” In this week’s issue of the Times Literary Supplement, Ferdinand Mount evaluates the notions of fair play surveyed in An English Tradition? The History and Significance of Fair Play by Jonathan Duke-Evans. With origins found in old English popular culture, such as in the rules that dictated spontaneous street boxing, fair play was “taken over by the gentry and remolded” during the imperial era as a model both for the morals of the well-born and for the character of the nation. Duke-Evans traces the popular origins of fair play to its heyday in the nineteenth century and its stark decline during the twentieth century. Perhaps overly critical of Winston Churchill and not critical enough of Prince Harry, Mount claims the West lost touch with fair play in the modern period. Yet the English understanding of fair play permeates all levels of society in the present, offering a sense of credibility to all forms of competition, from popular sports games to the laws of trading stock.
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