In some respects The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a classic Post-Modern text. For one thing, it does not exist. It is a 'construct' of much later historians, obsessed with the discovery/invention/creation of a 'national Chronicle' as opposed to 'merely local annals', to quote the most influential of them, Charles Plummer, whose 1899 edition of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has still, significantly or ominously, not been replaced. Since the Chronicle is a Post-Modern work, even this brief account contains slurrings or inaccuracies, but one could press on by saying that even if it didn't exist before, it certainly does now. No modern historical work on the period is without its long index entry on Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, while the libraries of the world contain scores, if not thousands of books with that title on their spines, the product of equally large numbers of scholars. So of course 'The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' exists. You could argue that it is a product of later English scholars rather than of Anglo-Saxons, but you could not deny that Anglo-Saxons wrote it, or them, or at least the words out of which it has been made. So, to put it Post-Modernly, what is this Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and what do we mean by 'wrote'? How is the complexity which underlies the familiar three-word title to be presented in a manner true enough to be useful and simple enough to follow?
LRB 20 March 1997 | PDF Download