Oliver Lough (Horsforth High School) reviews Laura Ashe's 'Early Fiction in England: From Geoffrey of Monmouth to Chaucer'

Participants in Worcester's Bookshelf project are all in year 11, 12 or 13 at UK state schools. They are asked to review the book in no more than 300 words, as well as to respond to the three prompts at the bottom of the page. Here Oliver Lough, who is studying at Horsforth High School, reviews Laura Ashe's book, Early Fiction in England: From Geoffrey of Monmouth to Chaucer


I found this book informative and engaging, and thought that it was fascinating seeing the developments that have been made over time, and which external factors influenced fiction. I felt that the earlier fiction was predominantly dictated by expanding on entertaining historical narratives, with the main goal of informing the aristocratic population of the time. These stories often included subtle themes linked to masculinity, hierarchy, patriotism, and the dominance that both men and royalty possessed in the 12th Century. As time developed, I felt that as well as the concept of patriarchy being very prominent, we also see the powerlessness, and yet underappreciated manipulation, of women, which we seem to be reminded of constantly through their beauty, thus creating the idea that this may be their only desirable characteristic. Although in cases such as Horn and Amis, the same is done for men, other attributes are aligned with their image, suggesting that have deeper value.

Also, I noticed that a lot of the stories contained in this book seem to be of the romantic genre, often with a tragic end, linking to the foreshadowed hamartia of the protagonists. As well as this, in the latter half of the book, there seems to be a focus primarily on the supernatural, with many tales linking to unrealistic, mystical events or qualities. This could purely be seen as a literary technique, to make the narrative more entertaining, like the wolf-man in Arthur and Gorlagon, or the miraculous healing in 'Amis and Amilum'. On the other hand, sometimes these elements have a deeper level, such as the metaphorical messages about sin with the devil in 'Eudo', or the literary trope with the dragon, in 'Gui of Warwick', which is used to present the protagonists prowess and strength. Overall, I would say that my favourites were Gaimar, Thomas of Britain and Marie de France.


Something I agreed with in this book was...

The way that constant religious and biblical messages were present, picked up in the introductions of the stories, showing how dominant Christianity was in influencing the whole of society. I thought that the inclusion of 'Guide for Anchorites' was essential in showing the opposition facing fiction, however it was interesting noting the structural similarities evident in this passage.


Something I disagreed with in this book was...

The underlying themes of misogynistic behaviour, and the fact that women and their desires seemed to objectified, reflecting the patriarchal attitudes of the time.


Something I learnt from reading this book that I didn’t know about the subject before was...

That colloquial language was used by the narrator to make the stories seem more relatable and engaging, something that I wasn’t aware was from that early on in fiction. I noticed this direct address especially in Gaimar, with “hear what the liar did” as well “I don’t speak of anything trivial” in Amis and Amilum, which reminded me of the tone frequently used in Dickens’ work.