Books to Look out for in March 2021

When it comes to finding new books to dig your teeth into, there’s plenty to get excited about this March. Whether you’re interested in the history of the Black Death or curious about medievalist traditions in nineteenth-century British culture, we’ve got something for you.

Take a look at some of our highlights to keep on your radar this March.

Medievalist Traditions in Nineteenth-Century British Culture

Celebrating the Calendar Year

Clare A Simmons

What does a maypole represent? Why eat hot cross buns? Did Dick Whittington have a cat? While Britain was becoming the most industrially-advanced nation in the world, many vaunted the superiority of the present to the past – yet others felt that if shadows of past ways of life haunted the present, they were friendly ghosts. This book explores how real or imagined remnants of medieval celebration in a variety of forms created a cultural idea of the Middle Ages. As Britons found, or thought that they found, traces of the medieval in traditions tied to times of the year, medievalism became not only the justification but also the inspiration for community festivity, from Christmas and Boxing Day through Maytime rituals to Hallowe’en, as show in the writings of amongst many others Keats, Browning and Dickens.

The Complete History of the Black Death

Ole J Benedictow

Building upon his acclaimed study of 2004, Ole Benedictow here draws upon new scholarship and research to present a comprehensive, definitive account of the Black Death and its impact on European history. The medical and epidemiological characteristics of the disease, its geographical origin, its spread across Asia Minor, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and Russia, and the mortality in the countries and regions for which there are satisfactory studies, are clearly presented and thoroughly discussed. The pattern, pace and seasonality of the spread of the disease reflects current medical work and standard studies on the epidemiology of bubonic plague. Benedictow’s findings make it clear that the true mortality rate was far higher than had been previously thought. In the light of those findings, the discussion of the Black Death as a turning point in history takes on a new significance.

African Literature in the Digital Age

Class and Sexual Politics in New Writing from Nigeria and Kenya

Shola Adenekan

In an age where cultural currency depends on the digital sphere, Shola Adenekan shows that what is produced and published in cyberspace signposts us to new and old power structures, within local and global contexts. Drawing on robust analysis of literary networks, the author demonstrates how class and sexuality intersect within these sites. He looks at both the spectacular and the quotidian aspects of new writings from Nigeria and Kenya: how writers use the digital space to produce literature that comments on big socio-political developments, and how readers in turn build meanings out of their everyday engagements with these works. The difference in attitude across generations that this book discusses, as well as the tension and perhaps disjunction, speak to the complexity of Africa and its many stories.

Günter Grass and the Genders of German Memory

From The Tin Drum to Peeling the Onion

Timothy B. Malchow

Günter Grass was a fixture at the heart of German cultural life, a self-styled spokesman of the Kulturnation. He was also the object of valid feminist criticism: a rigid conception of gender permeates his works. A heterosexual male, Grass lent his representative persona a natural veneer by appropriating his era’s gendered discursive constructs, including Heimat, the Bildungsroman, and narratives about German wartime victims and perpetrators. This book is the first to evaluate Grass’s legacy in light of current concerns about male privilege. It highlights his breakthrough novel The Tin Drum and his memoir Peeling the Onion. The former establishes the gendered persona that Grass would develop in subsequent decades to relate contemporary issues to Nazi-era memories. The latter reclaims the novel’s autobiographical material but fails to account for his decades-long silence about having served in the Nazi Waffen-SS. Instead, the memoir foregrounds his mourning for his mother, allowing for a more personal reading of his oeuvre and its gendered imagery.

Human Agency in Medieval Society, 1100-1450

Ionuț Epurescu-Pascovici

What did it mean to be an autonomous agent in European medieval society? This book aims to answer that fundamental question, via an examination of a mosaic of case studies drawn from the literate urban middle strata and the lower and middle-rank aristocracy. The social imaginary that informs individual conduct, the patterns of strategic action, and the individuals’ sense of effectiveness in the world are reconstructed from “ego-documents”, a broad category that includes first-person charters, autobiographical insertions in chronicles, private registers, and memoirs. These range from the better-known, such as the Ménagier de Paris and the histories of Galbert of Bruges and Salimbene of Parma, to the equally fascinating but more seldom explored French livres de raison and Italian ricordanze.

J. S. Bach’s Material and Spiritual Treasures

A Theological Perspective

Noelle M. Heber

Bach scholar Noelle M. Heber explores theological themes related to earthly and heavenly ‘treasures’ in Bach’s sacred music through an examination of selected texts from Bach’s personal theological library. Organised around the biblical concepts that were accented in Lutheran thought, this book considers Bach’s apparent attentiveness to spiritual values related to money. Heber’s research also presents an updated survey of Bach’s own financial situation and will be of interest to scholars of musicology, theology, and music.

Medieval Pets

Kathleen Walker-Meikler

New in Paperback
Animals in the Middle Ages have often been discussed – but usually only as a source of food, as beasts of burden, or as aids for hunters. This book takes a completely different angle, showing that they were also beloved domestic companions to their human owners. It offers a full survey of pets and pet-keeping: how they were acquired, kept, fed, exercised, and displayed; it looks at the problems pets could cause, and finally, how they were mourned. It also examines the representation of pets and their owners in art and literature; the many charming illustrations offer further evidence for the bonds between humans and their pets, then as now.

Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi: History, Criticism, Celebration

History, Criticism, Celebration

Edited by Sabata-mpho Mokae and Brian Willan

Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi is the first full-length novel in English to have been written by a black South African and is widely regarded as one of the continent’s most important literary works. Drawing upon both oral and literary traditions, Plaatje uses the novel to explore the 19th-century dispossession of his people, to provide a novel black perspective on their history. It is a book that speaks to present-day concerns to do with land, language, history and decolonisation. Today the novel has iconic status, not only in South Africa, but worldwide and its impact on other writers has been profound. The novelist Bessie Head described it as ‘more than a classic; there is just no other book on earth like it.’ A century after its writing in London, this book celebrates Mhudi’s place in African literature, reviews its critical reception, and offers fresh perspectives. The contributors discuss Mhudi’s genesis, writing and publication; its reception by literary critics from the 1930s to the present; Mhudias a feminist novel; Mhudi’s use of oral tradition; issues of translation; Mhudi in the context of African literature and history, and the decolonisation of the curriculum.