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The Ballad and Oral Literature (Harvard…

The Ballad and Oral Literature (Harvard English Studies) (1991)

by Joseph Harris

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In my copy of this book, the title on the cover looks like a blue sticker placed over a patterned board. Maybe they got the wrong sticker.

From its title, you would think that this collection is about the relationship between ballads and oral literature. One of those syntactic units is right: Almost everything in the book involves oral literature. Another is half right: about half the essays are devoted at least in part to ballads. But the "and" is missing. If half the essays are about ballads, that means half of them aren't, and only a few actually discuss the relationship between ballads and other genres.

If you realize that from the start (I didn't), you'll probably get more out of the book. Several essays, for instance, discuss the relationship between the print and oral traditions of particular stories. One looks at the famous ballad of "The Gypsy Laddie" and tries (unsuccessfully, to my mind) to wring more history out of it. One tries to trace links between ballads and the works of more mainstream poets.

There is a lot of interesting work here. But it seems to me that the interest is far more to students of literature -- especially international medieval literature -- than folk songs scholars. If that's what you want, then you can rely on the results to be well-researched and well-presented. Whether they are actually right is left as an exercise for the reader. ( )
1 vote waltzmn | Apr 4, 2014 |
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Six of the papers gathered here originated as lectures at a symposium on the Child ballads held at Harvard University in November 1988; these chapters, by Flemming G. Anderson, Hugh Shields, David Buchan, Emily Lyle, Vésteinn Ólason, and Natscha Würzbach have, however, been considerably reworked for printed presentation here.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674060466, Paperback)

Francis James Child, compiler and editor of "English and Scottish Popular Ballads", established the scholarly study of folk ballads in the English-speaking world. His successors at Harvard University, notably George Lyman Kittredge, Milman Parry, and Albert B. Lord, discovered new ways of relating ideas about sung narrative to the study of epic poetry and what has come to be called - "oral literature". In this volume, 16 scholars from Europe and the United States offer original essays in the spirit of these pioneers. The topics of their studies include well-known "Child ballads" in their British and American forms; aspects of the oral literatures of France, Ireland, Scandinavia, medieval England, ancient Greece, and modern Egypt; and recent literary ballads and popular songs. Many of the essays evince a concern with the theoretical underpinnings of the study of folklore and literature, orality and literacy; and as a whole the volume re-establishes the European ballad in the wider context of oral literature. Among the contributors are Albert B. Lord, Bengt R. Jonsson, Gregory Nagy, David Buchan, Vesteinn Olason, and Karl Reichl.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:45 -0400)

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