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Anglo-Saxon Attitudes

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Agha Shahid Ali Biography to Ardoch Perth and Kinross

a novel by Angus Wilson, published in 1956. The novel concerns the excavation of a tomb in Suffolk, of the seventh-century Bishop Eorpwald, which has had a profound effect on Anglo-Saxon scholarship. Its central figure is Gerald Middleton, Professor Emeritus of Early Medieval History, who considers the discoveries to be fake, but for his own reasons has concealed this belief from the public. In late middle age he decides that this evasiveness must cease and embarks on a search for the truth, knowing that this will entail a scandal. The story is clearly based on the Piltdown affair and symbolizes the falsehood inherent in the British people's concept of themselves. Situations and people—including Middleton's wife, the idealistic and perverse Ingeborg, and her much-loved son Johnnie—are presented with brilliance and irony, which does not preclude the pathetic or the serious. With its large cast of characters and its complex plot, which serves both to introduce a wide variety of social milieux and to act as a metaphor for the book's concerns, the novel invites comparison with its Victorian counterparts, above all Dickens.

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