Manuscript Discovery: Grendel’s Mother and My Mother

From the Table of Contents. Note how Joan has written “Hrunting” here.

I was flipping through the pages of my mother’s book from when she was a high school student in Chicago in the 1930s. I had held World Literature (edited by E. A. Cross, also 1935) numerous times. I opened it to gaze within, seeing her inscription: “Joan Wehlen October 26, 1938 U-High.” In the Table of Contents, she had transcribed this famous quote from Anatole France: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Coming from a family with socialist leanings in the wake of the Depression, this sentiment must have resonated. She also had transcribed the word “Hrunting”–the name of the sword loaned to Beowulf by Unferth.

I found the version of Beowulf she had been taught–only an excerpt in prose, but what thrilling passages. Here it is for all to read from the 1904 translation of Clarence G. Child (Houghton Mifflin) as reprinted in World Literature (edited by E. A. Cross, also 1935).

Note how Mom inscribed on the title page: “Social conditions of Greek drama” and wrote the name “Joyce” (James?) twice.

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