Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England by Michael Alexander; St Pancras Station by Simon Bradley - review by John Martin Robinson

John Martin Robinson

Enchanted Ground

Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England

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Yale University Press 352pp £25 order from our bookshop

St Pancras Station

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Profile 193pp £14.99 order from our bookshop
 

The nineteenth-century Gothic Revival in Britain is often treated as a purely architectural phenomenon, and a superficial, decorative one at that. The strength of these two books is to show that the medieval revival in architecture was only one aspect of a much wider and deeper cultural, political, religious and social phenomenon which extended from the eighteenth century well into the twentieth, and encompassed trade unions and the thinking of Karl Marx as much as Pugin and Scott. Indeed, the most serious aspect of the medieval revival was the rekindling of sacramental religion in the Church of England. In fact, in its earliest stages, the cult of medievalism was pre-eminently a literary movement manifested in the resuscitation and publication of medieval ballads and romances such as Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry or Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, the fabrication of fakes like Macpherson’s Ossian, and the writing of new poetry and novels inspired by historic precedents, legends and settings as a reaction to the Augustans and ‘cool social intelligence’.

Michael Alexander was Professor of English Literature at St Andrews University (a medieval offshoot of the University of Paris) and is particularly strong on the medievalist strain in English literature, but he uses this as a springboard to build a coherent account of the whole medievalist phenomenon from 1760 to

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