2 – The Norton Anthology of English Literature


Do you remember university? Four hours of lectures every week, Tesco Value bread for that cheese on toast, the over-priced shop on campus, the town pubs you wouldn’t go near, Fresher’s Week, Wednesday was Cheese Night, the SU Bar, halls of residence, your dissertation…

Do you remember the Norton Anthology?

If you do –  then you must have done an English degree.

The Norton Anthology is one of the best kept secrets in Literature. Since its first edition in 1962 it has been the staple of English students around the world.

You should have done an English degree. We had reading time instead of lectures. Some of us even had whole weeks devoted to turning the odd page from time to time and looking intellectual. I won’t lie to you, I couldn’t count the amount of classic books I read back then. If I’m being really honest 1999-2001 was a bit of a blur, hence my 2:2.

If you haven’t heard of The Norton Anthology let me tell a few details. Firstly, it was a real brick of a book, but filled with these incredibly thin tracing-paper pages. It was also 20,000 pages long stuffed with prose, poetry and biographies of all of the greats of English Literature.

In 1998 it cost me a whopping £30 to buy. To put that into perspective that was the equivalent of about fifteen pints of snakebite and blacks in the Student Union bar.

I still remember the sound of my heart breaking as I parted with the cash in the Waterstones that dominated the centre of our campus.

And where is my copy of the Norton Anthology now, almost twenty years after leaving university?  I can tell you. I’m looking at it right now. It’s on my bookshelf in my front room, where else? It’s a multi-functional gem: collecting dust and making me look clever at the same time? I get it out from time to time but only to ask people, “Do you remember the Norton Anthology?”


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