Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Writing

In terms of strictly English fiction, the earliest remaining works are those of the Anglo-Saxon period, most famously Beowulf, written in the 8th century. Again, though, this is a poem. In fact, only Apollonius of Tyre has survived as evidence of an Old English prose romance genre – and we only have this by the chance of its being copied into the back of a book of homilies and laws in the 11th century. Therefore prose fiction may have existed in greater quantities before the Norman Conquest, but it seems from the examples that we have that prose was usually employed for sermons and other religious writings, legal and documentary texts, and travel / medical books.

Fiction in the Middle Ages also tended to be written in the form of poems (The Canterbury Tales (circa 1387-1400) and Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1400)), or was transmitted in the form of morality plays. After 1470, though, Caxton began to print the works of Chaucer, Gower and Malory. The printing press made prose fiction a practical possibility and in the early years of the 16th century the Humanists (principally Thomas More and his friend, the Dutchman Desiderius Erasmus) began to write. However, their famous books Utopia (1516) and Encomium Moriae (1511, "The Praise of Folly") were written in Latin, which was still the language of official documents. Utopia, although it was veiled as a genuine account of a traveller’s experiences in a strange land, was nonetheless a work of prose fiction.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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