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Old English Studies in France


André Crépin, Professor and head of the Faculté des études anglaises et nord-américaines (emeritus), with the collaboration of Leo Carruthers, Professor of English and Director of the Centre d'Etudes Médiévales Anglaises, University of Paris IV—Sorbonne

The French cannot fail to be interested in their neighbours, the English, with whom they have long entertained a love-hate relationship. Chaucer is often considered an offshoot of French culture. Beowulf, Cynewulf, and other wolves, however, sound barbarous: émile Legouis and Arthur Quiller-Couch, after World War I, thought so. Ernest Renan, in the late 19th century, wrote nonsense about Beowulf. Hippolyte Taine in his Histoire de la littérature anglaise (1863, with many subsequent editions) was better informed – through Sharon Turner – but associated the poem with desolate North European seascapes. And yet in 1847 the saintly Professor of Foreign Literatures at the Sorbonne, Frédéric Ozanam, replacing Claude Fauriel, a specialist in Provençal and modern Greek, had chosen the early Germanic literatures as his topic and given a good analysis of the poem. Which shows that professors are not always listened to.

Academics are supposed to be more careful. French doctoral theses, before the 1968 reforms, consisted of two dissertations. Specialists in medieval English often devoted the minor one to Old English. E.-G. Sandras wrote his major dissertation on Chaucer considéré comme imitateur des trouvères, his minor being entitled De carminibus anglo-saxonicis Caedmoni adjucatis disquisitio (1859) – it was compulsory, before World War I, to write the minor thesis in Latin. émile Pons wrote his major thesis on the early Swift, his minor on Le thème et le sentiment de la nature dans la poésie anglo-saxonne (1925). Marguerite-Marie Dubois, however, wrote both theses on Old English literature: Ælfric, sermonnaire, docteur et grammairien and Les éléments latins dans la poésie religieuse de Cynewulf (1942). After 1968 the thesis was reduced to a single dissertation. The influence of the Bible on Anglo-Saxon culture was the subject chosen by Micheline Larès-Yoël (1974).

Old English, with its limited corpus but long span of time, offers an ideal field to linguists. René Huchon wrote a painstaking Histoire de la langue anglaise (1923, 1930). More recent and shorter histories have been written by Georges Bourcier (1978; 1981), A. Crépin (1994), Colette Stévanovitch (1997). More specialised monographs deal with element order (Jean Fourquet 1938, Paul Bacquet 1962), relative clauses (G. Bourcier 1977), and gender (Simone Wyss 1982). Structural stylistics is applied to the Metrical Charms by Anne Berthoin-Mathieu (1996). The wyrd problem is entirely reexamined by Adrian Papahagi in his 2006 thesis (forthcoming).

Poems have been translated and commented upon. Beowulf, several times: Léon Botkine (1877), Hubert Pierquin (1912), Walter William Thomas (1919), Jean Queval (1981), A. Crépin (1981, 1991 and forthcoming). (The unpublished poem by J.A. Gobineau, 1816-82, entitled Beowulf, has next to nothing to do with the Old English text.) Genesis A & B is the subject matter of C. Stévanovitch's thesis (1992) and she is going to edit and translate Christ II. Jean-François Barnaud has translated the Physiologus poems of the Exeter Book (2001). Shorter poems were translated in anthologies alongside Beowulf by W.W. Thomas and A. Crépin; others in a Liège anthology, écritures 79 (1981). Prose texts have been translated: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Marie Hoffmann-Hirtz, 1933), lives of saints (Marthe Mensah 2003), Ælfric's Grammar (with a linguistic commentary, M. Mensah and Fabienne Toupin 2005). Works on Anglo-Saxon England are written by history teachers as well, as may be seen in Alban Gautier's volume on banquets (2006).

Fernand Mossé launched a series named 'Bibliothèque de philologie germanique' (1942), in which he published up-to-date handbooks, notably on medieval English. That on Old English appeared in 1945. The series was interrupted in 1970, and the volumes are by now out of print. In L'Anglais médiéval (1996) Leo Carruthers gives a general introduction, historical and linguistic, a state of the art with bibliography, and a selection of texts with notes and translations. A. Crépin surveys Old English Poetics (2005) and proposes a new volumetric interpretation.

The 'Association des Médiévistes Anglicistes de l'Enseignement Supérieur' (AMAES) http://mapage.noos.fr/amaes/ was founded in 1969. Its address is: AMAES, c/o Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne, UFR d'anglais, 1 rue Victor Cousin, 75230 PARIS Cedex 05. The current president, in succession to André Crépin, is Professor Leo Carruthers. Every year it publishes two Bulletins and one volume. It also organises symposia from time to time, and monthly seminars where facsimiles of Old English manuscripts are deciphered, translated and commented upon in a friendly atmosphere. The Association plays an important part, showing the relevance and vitality of the study of medieval English.

The rôle of the AMAES is all the more important as universities, since the student revolts in 1968, tend to suppress the study of the distant past. They privilege business efficiency in the here and now – a paradoxical consequence of the anarchistic 1968 ideology. Modern linguistics deals mostly with present-day English; literature begins with Shakespeare and then often leaps directly to Joyce. The university teaching of Old English is generally reduced to the status of an optional subject. A medieval work normally appears every four years on the literature syllabus of the agrégation, the highest competitive exam, but this is a mere tradition unsupported by any official convention. Only three French universities safeguard the teaching of Old English qua Old English: Paris IV-Sorbonne, Limoges and Nancy II.

At the licence (BA, 3rd year) level, studies in English are divided into four main disciplines: Language, Literature, Civilisation, and Translation. At Paris IV, 'Language' means a Grammar course which is compulsory for all students followed by a choice between Phonology on the one hand and the History of English on the other. In practice this means that about 100 Third Year students (approximately half of the total) choose History of English. The course is taught through a series of lectures (1 hour) and seminars (1 hour) over a period of two semesters (26 weeks). What is now called in both French and English, the Master 2 (MA level 2 = 5th year) is required for admission into a Doctoral School with a view to preparing a doctorate. Post-graduate teaching is done through seminars with varying medieval themes, among which Old English Literature makes a regular comeback every few years. During the past five years (2001-2006) there has been an average of 15-20 students enrolled in the Medieval English seminar for Master 1 (4th year), and 8-12 for Master 2.

Eleven doctoral theses have been presented at Paris IV for the period 2001-2006 in the area of Medieval English. Both Paris IV and Nancy II have active and attractive research centres with annual conferences whose proceedings are systematically published.



Other surveys of Anglo-Saxon studies in France include Crépin 1990 and Mouchon 2002.


Works Cited

  • Bacquet, Paul. La structure de la phrase verbale a l'époque alfrédienne. Paris: Editions Ophrys, 1962.
  • Barnaud, Jean-François. Le Bestiaire vieil-anglais: étude et traduction de textes animaliers dans la poésie vieil-anglaise. Publications de l'Association des médiévistes anglicistes de l'enseignement supérieur, hors série 7. Paris: Association des médiévistes anglicistes de l'enseignement supérieur, 2001.
  • Berthoin-Mathieu, Anne. Prescriptions magiques anglaises du Xe au XIIe siècle étude structurale. Lille: A.N.R.T, Université de Lille III, 1995.
  • Botkine, Léon. Beowulf, épopée anglo-saxonne. Traduite en français, pour la première fois, d'après le text original. Havre: Lepelletier, 1877.
  • Bourcier, Georges. Les propositions relatives en vieil-anglais. Paris: H. Champion, 1977.
  • Bourcier, Georges. Histoire de la langue anglaise du Moyen âge à nos jours. Paris: Bordas, 1978.
  • Carruthers, Leo. L'Anglais médiéval. Turnhout: Brepols, 1996.
  • Crépin, André, trans. Poèmes héroïques vieil-anglais. Bibliothèque Medievale 10/18 (1460). Paris: Union Generale d'Editions, 1981.
  • Crépin, André. "Medieval English Studies in France." Medieval English Studies Past and Present. Ed. Akio Oizumi and Toshiyuki Takamiya. Tokyo: Eichosha, 1990. 60-77.
  • Crépin, André. 'Beowulf': édition diplomatique et texte critique, traduction française, commentaire et vocabulaire. Göppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik 329. 2 vols. Göppingen: Kümmerle, 1991.
  • Crépin, André. Deux mille ans de langue anglaise. Paris: Nathan, 1994.
  • Crépin, André. Old English Poetics. A Technical Handbook. Paris: Association des médiévistes anglicistes de l'enseignement supérieur, 2005.
  • Dubois, Marguerite Marie. Ælfric, sermonnaire, docteur et grammairien, contribution à l'étude de la vie et de l'action bénédictines en Angleterre au Xe siècle. Paris: E. Droz, 1943.
  • Dubois, Marguerite Marie. Les éléments latins dans la poésie religieuse de Cynewulf. Paris: E. Droz, 1943.
  • Fourquet, Jean. L'ordre des éléments de la phrase en germanique ancien; études de syntaxe de position. Paris: Les Belles lettres, 1938.
  • Freeborn, Dennis. From Old English to Standard English: A Course Book in Language Variation Across Time. 3rd ed. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
  • Gautier, Alban. Le festin dans l'Angleterre anglo-saxonne. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2006.
  • Hoffmann-Hirtz, Marie. Une chronique anglo-saxonne: traduite d'après le ms. 173 de Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Strasbourg: Libr. Univ. d'Alsace, 1933.
  • Huchon, René Louis. Histoire de la langue anglaise. 2 vols. Paris, A. Colin, 1923-30.
  • Larès-Yoël, Micheline. Bible et civilisation anglaise: contribution à l'étude des éléments d'Anciens-Testament dans la civilisation vieil-anglaise. Lille: Atelier reprod. th. Univ. Lille 3, 1975.
  • Mensah, Marthe. Vies de saints d'Angleterre et d'ailleurs. Turnhout: Brepols, 2003.
  • Mensah, Marthe, and Fabienne Toupin. La Grammaire d'Ælfric. Traduction en français et commentaire linguistique. Paris: Association des médiévistes anglicistes de l'enseignement supérieur, 2005.
  • Mossé, Fernand. Manuel de l'anglais du Moyen-Age, Vieil-Anglais. Paris: Aubier, 1945.
  • Mossé, Fernand. Manuel de l'anglais du Moyen-Age, Moyen-Anglais. Paris: Aubier, 1962.
  • Mouchon, Jean-Pierre, Annuaire des anglicistes médiévistes, Marseille: Terra Beata, 2002.
  • Pierquin, Hubert. Le poème Anglo-Saxon de Beowulf. Paris: Alphonse Picard, 1912.
  • Pons, Emile. Le thème et le sentiment de la nature dans la poésie anglo-saxonne. Strasbourg: Librairie Istra, 1925.
  • Queval, Jean, trans. Beowulf: l'épopée fondamentale de la littérature anglaise. Paris: Gallimard, 1981.
  • Sandras, étienne-Gustave. De Carminibus Anglo-Saxonicis Caedmoni Adjudicatis Disquisitio. Paris: A. Durand, 1859.
  • Sandras, étienne-Gustave. étude sur G. Chaucer, considéré comme imitateur des trouvères. Paris: A. Durand, 1859.
  • Stévanovitch, Colette, ed. La Genèse, du manuscrit Junius XI de la Bodléienne. Publications de l'Association des médiévistes anglicistes de l'enseignement supérieur, hors série 1. 2 vols. Paris: Association des médiévistes anglicistes de l'enseignement supérieur, 1992.
  • Stévanovitch, Colette. Manuel d'histoire de la langue anglaise: des origines à nos jours. Paris: Ellipses-marketing, 1997.
  • Taine, Hippolyte. Histoire de la littérature anglaise. Paris: L. Hachette et cie, 1863-64.
  • Thomas, Walter. Beowulf et les premiers fragments épiques anglo-saxons. Paris: H. Didier, 1919
  • Wyss, Simone. Le système du genre en vieil anglais jusqu'à la Conquête. Lille: Service de reproduction des thèses, Université de Lille III, 1982.