A sharply observed study of the representations of education found in Anglo-Saxon texts, Irina Dumitrescu’s The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature (Cambridge University...

A sharply observed study of the representations of education found in Anglo-Saxon texts, Irina Dumitrescu’s The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature (Cambridge University Press 2018) invites readers to recognize just how often educational encounters crop up throughout the Anglo-Saxon corpus. By attending to the ways that violence, deceit, suspicion, sexual desire, concealed identities, and various temptations modulate the relationship between teacher and student, and the ways that shocking and moving stories fix knowledge in the mind and demonstrate relationships—even grammatical relations—in unforgettable ways, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature offers readers interested in the history of pedagogy an exploration of the relationships between Anglo-Saxon students and teachers that tangles with both scholarly and popular expectations of the medieval mind.

Addressing Anglo-Saxon uses of the culture of late antiquity, especially the form of the dialogue, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature reveals scenes heavily invested in the tensions between teacher and student, portrayals of engagement between parties that complicate relations of power and creation of knowledge. In the texts under consideration, the lesson for the reader (or hearer) grows from the conflict, rather than concord, between student and teacher. Focused on spiritual education and literacy, often closely linked in Anglo-Saxon texts, Dr. Dumitrescu’s work considers the Anglo-Saxon interest in negative emotions like fear, curiosity, erotic longing, and mistrust; and the potential cognitive uses of these emotions as they emerge in the faceoffs, desert journeys, revenants, riddles, letter battles, sea voyages, and challenges to memory that provide the narrative substance of Anglo-Saxon writing.

Rereading the standard texts of the Anglo-Saxon corpus, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature demonstrates the ways in which texts like The Life of St. Mary of Egypt speak to broader medieval interests in learning, and drives toward a grasp of Anglo-Saxon beliefs about the purposes of teaching. Chapters on Solomon and Saturn I, Aelfric Bata’s Colloquies, and Andreas follow an approach to Bede’s Ecclesiastical History which suggests that the common focus on Caedmon’s Hymn draws attention away from the John of Beverly miracle: a story at the crossroads between miraculous Latin learning and English poetry in a mode of vernacular liberation.

Treating urges and passions as sparks that give the learning process a necessary heat, even as they threaten to scorch it beyond utility, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature sketches a subtle and sophisticated approach to human emotion and cognition in the literature of Anglo-Saxon England.


A researcher, writer, editor, and educator, Carl Nellis digs in archives and academic libraries for the critically-acclaimed Lore Podcast. Studies on both sides of the Atlantic left him with a taste for the tangled colonial history that threads the culture of the Middle Ages into today’s United States.

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