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Literary Criticism General


Early Modern British Siege Literature, 1642-1722

by (author) Sharon Alker & Holly Faith Nelson

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Jan 2021
General, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2021
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Siege literature has existed since antiquity but has not always been understood as a crucial element of culture. Focusing on its magnetic force, Besieged brings to light its popularity and potency between the British Civil War and the Great Northern War in Europe, a period in which literary texts reflected an urgent interest in siege mentality and tactics.

Exploring the siege as represented in canonical works by Milton, Dryden, Defoe, Davenant, Cowley, Cavendish, and Bunyan, alongside a wide array of little-known memoirs, plays, poems, and works of prose fiction on military and civilian experiences of siege warfare, Besieged breaks new ground in the field of early modern war literature. Sharon Alker and Holly Faith Nelson draw on theories of space and place to show how early modern Britons feverishly worked to make sense of the immediacy, horror, and trauma of urban warfare, offering a valuable perspective on the literature that captured the cultural imagination during and after the traumatic civil wars of the 1640s.

Alker and Nelson demonstrate how the narratives of besieged cities became a compelling way to engage with the fragility of urban space, unstable social structures, developing technologies, and the inadequacy of old heroic martial models. Given the reality of urban warfare in our own age, Besieged provides a timely foundation for understanding the history of such spaces and their cultural representation.

About the authors

Sharon Alker is Mary A. Denny Professor of English and General Studies at Whitman College.

Sharon Alker's profile page


Holly Faith Nelson, associate professor of English at Trinity Western University, has co-edited The Broadview Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Verse and Prose, Of Paradise and Light, Eikon Basilike, and James Hogg and the Literary Marketplace.

Lynn R. Szabo is an associate professor and chair of the English Department at Trinity Western University where she teaches American literature and creative writing. She has written extensively on Thomas Merton and is the editor of In the Dark before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton.

Jens Zimmermann, professor of English at Trinity Western University and Canada Research Chair in Religion, Culture, and Interpretation, is the author of Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Approach to Interpretation, The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education (with Norman Klassen), and Theologische Hermeneutik.


Holly Faith Nelson's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Besieged is poised to help academic readers, as well as their students and other interlocutors, learn from past human responses to civil violence, and bring that learning to bear on the present moment.” Journal of British Studies

"Besieged pursues its objectives vigorously and imaginatively. Sharon Alker and Holly Faith Nelson not only arrange and categorize a wide array of siege drama, verse, and prose works; they evaluate them carefully, highlighting the best and robustly criticizing the weaker ones. Scholars owe a debt of gratitude to these two authors for working this rich vein of literary and historical documents." William W.E. Slights, University of Saskatchewan

"Alker and Nelson survey a wide range of written forms: diaries, letters, plays, long and short poetic forms, satires, and even allegory. One takeaway of this book is just how much siege-related writing there was. The authors show how different political, religious, and ideological positions influenced the way that authors depicted the assault on and defense of cities, both at home and abroad." Choice

“A fresh and insightful analysis of an often-overlooked motif in early modern war literature, the motif of the siege. Alker and Nelson have established a clear critical baseline, written a foundational critical text, and contributed an important perspective to the literature of early modern Britain.” War, Literature and the Arts

“Alker and Nelson write in a lucid and engaging style that belies the heft of their scholarly and archival efforts. They are fine close readers with sharp historical sensibilities and their work is most engaging when they settle in and dig deep. Their analysis of siege drama … is particularly compelling as they trace the shift from Shakespeare’s trenchant dramatization of siege as ossification to the strategic reinvention of this imaginary in the wake of Britain’s own traumatic siege experience. This [… is] an expansive and stimulating book and its authors are to be commended.” Literature & History

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