- The Edinburgh Critical Edition of the Selected Writings of Andrew Lang ed. by Andrew Teverson, Alexandra Warwick, and Leigh Wilson
Andrew Teverson, Alexandra Warwick, and Leigh Wilson have succeeded in a daunting task: condensing the works of prolific writer Andrew Lang into just two volumes. Although many may know Lang best from his fairy-tale collections, he was also a folklorist, poet, essayist, novelist, literary critic, historian, anthropologist, biographer, and a scholar on religion and psychic phenomenon. With such a vast panoply of writings, the editors had to choose [End Page 419] wisely to give a fair treatment to the broad scope of Lang’s scholarship. The collection does not cover all genres (Lang’s poetry and fiction are absent), but the editors make a strong case for the inclusion of each piece or category in the collection.
The volumes are divided by topic. The first showcases Lang’s writings in anthropology in the categories of fairy tale, folklore, origins of religion, and psychical research. Volume 2 covers Lang’s forays into literary criticism, history, and biography. Neither volume is exhaustive in its treatment of the topics, and often individual selections are condensed. However, the offerings provide a clear picture of Lang’s style, methodology, and scope.
In addition to Lang’s writings, Selected Writings contains helpful resources. Each volume begins with the same brief general introduction to the set, which highlights the fact that after his death, one of the chief criticisms brought forth was that Lang should have focused his talents on one area instead of dispersing them among so many fields. This view is encapsulated by Lang lecturer Adam Blyth’s comment, “The wonder, regretful or complaining, not that he should have done so much, but that, it seemed, he had failed to do more” (1: 9). The general introduction is followed by a volume-specific introduction in which the editors carefully highlight their reasoning behind the selections in each volume and give a summary of the theories and works to follow. These introductions are followed by the “Chronology of the Life and Major Works of Andrew Lang,” which primarily highlights his professional affiliations and dates of publication rather than memorable personal experiences, which seems fitting for a man with an “intense aversion to emotional expression, self-revelation, and the revelation of the self in others” (2: 23). The “Note on the Text” that follows explains basic editorial decisions about spelling, punctuation, and foreign phrases. Each volume also contains an appendix of about 100 names of individuals mentioned in the specific volume and gives a brief biography of each individual so that readers are not left wondering who Margaret Hunt or Walter E. Roth might be. A second appendix included only in Volume 1 lists the ethnic groups cited by Lang (such as the Epirote and the Wolufs) and contains some brief information about each group. Extensive explanatory notes organized by selection and a thorough index complete each volume.
Volume 1 underscores how “Lang destroys his opponents (and sometimes his allies) by a precise and assiduous concern for the primacy of scientific method” (1: 17). Lang refutes both the Vedic (Indian) and sun-worship origins of folklore and proposes comparative textual analysis as a better method of interpretation. Although his theory that all societies go through the same stages of development is not universally held by modern anthropologists and although his idea that folklore is just the vestige of previous societal development may [End Page 420] also be passé, his emphasis on looking at the available facts and comparing them to current models (particularly when it came to “spooks” and the origin of religion) shows Lang to be an anthropologist who advanced the methodology in his field. Lang challenges his contemporaries by name—James Frazer, Max Müller, E. B. Tylor—and minutely questions and disproves their anthropological theories.
Volume 2 emphasizes Lang’s view on literature and Romance. He had great disdain for “novels with a purpose,” novels with a moral...