- Katie Trumpener (Author)
Bardic Nationalism. Princeton University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Sonia Hofkosh (Editor) and Alan Richardson (Author)
Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture, 1780-1835. Indiana University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Miranda Burgess
Katie Trumpener’s groundbreaking study of the Romantic novel shares its major goal with Alan Richardson’s and Sonia Hofkosh’s important collection of essays on Romanticism and empire. Both books seek to open up the constitution of "British Romantic literature" by expanding its reach beyond Britain, tracing its continuity with the literary culture of the colonial new world, and describing the imperial consciousness, awareness, and interests of Romantic-period British writers. Reading together the history of the British Romantic novel with the origins of what has since come to appear as a Canadian canon, Trumpener calls for a radical revision of the conventional definitions of "British" as well as of "Canadian" literature. Her argument begins by tracing the early formation of Irish and Scottish nationalisms within the United Kingdom, in ballad collections and annalistic histories and in Ossianic epic. Trumpener argues that these nationalisms, forged in critical dialogue with the Enlightenment colonialist genres of the survey and travel narrative, were—variously—nostalgic, aggressively traditionalist, or commited to an "accretive" notion of progress that relies on preservation of the lessons of the past. All three impulses made their way at the turn of the nineteenth century into the competing genres of the national tale and historical novel. In these new narrative forms, the diverse relations between nationalist and Enlightenment impulses and discourses mark the infinite variety of British and Irish novelists’ differing approaches to relations between nation and empire or history and geography, and to the role of human agency in political change.
The second half of Trumpener’s argument demonstrates that the "peripheral" nationalisms she delineates were exported to the colonies along with printed books and, sometimes, with their writers, even as Britain, and British writers, imported raw materials from the colonies. Trumpener shows that interest in empire—critical or uncritical, acknowledged or disguised— was a defining characteristic of even the most "domestic" early nineteenth-century English fiction. At the same time, however, nationalist narratives, as transformed by Walter Scott in particular, were exported to Britain’s colonies, where they were converted to aid in the ideological consolidation of empire. It is out of such materials, as Trumpener illustrates in an illuminating reading of John Gait’s Bogle Corbet and its Canadian publishing history, that the "national" literatures of British postcolonies are forged in a process of selective memory and forgetting. Yet the hybridity of these narratives, and their unstable blend of Enlightenment progressivism with nationalist recoil, also preserves seeds that may, if differently transformed, lead to a productive colonial resistance.
The ideological subtlety of Trumpener’s analysis results in large part from this complex dialectical approach to literary history. Because no literary form is immutably tied to a single ideology, no literary work can univocally serve a nationalist resistance or an imperial master: Trumpener calls for a rigorously formalist textual archaeology that must also, and simultaneously, be rigorously contextual. As they investigate texts in context, taking up Trumpener’s concluding call for "new ways of describing the formation of colonial consciousness," further studies will need to consider the role not just of writers and publishers but also of readers and reading publics in producing imperial and postimperial cultural formations, and in forging colonial resistance. Such studies now have an indispensible his-toriographical foundation on which to build, and a powerful literary analysis with which to engage or contend.
Whereas Trumpener emphasizes the cooperation of literary forms over the specificity of literature as a category, Richardson and Hofkosh’s collection reflects the essayists’ shared interest in examining the cultural institutions of Romanticism in British imperial contexts. The essays by Moira Ferguson, Alison Hickey, and Sonia Hofkosh emphasize the circulation of Romantic texts to the colonies and the multivalent ideological consequences of that circulation. Laura Doyle, Hickey, Joseph Lew, and Saree Makdisi address works by canonical Romantic poets, tracing canonicity in various ways to each poet’s role in defining Britain’s relations with its emerging empire; Nancy Moore Goslee and Alan Richardson discuss the inescapability, though not necessarily the triumph, of colonialist assumptions among the most sympathetic or anti-imperialist of poets. Deidre Lynch and Rajani Sudan examine the institutional role of the cultural production and circulation of maternity, whether successfully naturalized (Sudan) or inevitably failed and dangerously resistant (Lynch), in forging a national community and economy. The remaining essays address the ways in which Romantic-period writing models lor or questions the lines of political authority in the colonies. Balachandra Rajan discusses competing feminized conceptions of India in British Romantic narratives as prototypes for colonial rule and for approaches to Indian self-determination. Ashton Nichols explores the ambivalent rhetoric of Mungo Park’s African exploration narratives as the product of tensions between Enlightenment progressivism and Romantic primitivism. Anne K. Mellor discriminates co-operating axes of race, class, and gender that recombine in early nineteenth-century colonial ideology. The slippage between axes, she argues, and the discursive reliance on some alongside the rejection of others, can undo the best attempts of abolitionist writers to make room for real considerations of difference. Hofkosh discusses the capitalist education of the African-born autobiographer Olaudah Equiano as at once a baseline for early nineteenth-century cultural education and a visible corrective to Romantic individualism, with its claims to transcend material things.
It is impossible in the small space of this review to do adequate justice to the thirteen excellent essays in this collection. Perhaps the strongest common thread among them, and the element that makes them most readable from the present theoretically sophisticated standpoint of post-colonial scholarship, is the refusal of an ideological singlemindedness that commits a text to a stably imperialist or anti-imperial posture. Several essays, notably by Richardson and Goslee, illustrate the unstable swerves of anti-imperial texts into and out of colonial stereotype. Other essays suggest that reader resistance can potentially overcome a pro-imperialist didactic thrust: Hickey’s brief formulation of Wordsworth’s educational canonization in the colonies is powerful here. In Lynch’s and Lew’s essays, ideologically indispens able female figures are read as combinations of ideal passivity and a dangerously peripatetic power: colonial and foreign others refuse to stay in their place, over there and below, migrating into the domestic heart of British Romantic culture. That the shared focus of all these essays is on the ideological instability of Romantic texts, and their shifting relations to imperial contexts, points to two other valuable aspects of the collection. Disagreements between essayists over particular authors or texts are permitted to stand, and "dialogue and debate" between the contributing scholars is foregrounded in the introduction. Thus Makdisi’s disagreement with Lew over Byron’s orientalism not only illustrates the diversity of possible approaches to Romantic texts in imperial context, but highlights once more the ambiguity of the texts they discuss. When Richardson’s reading of Helen Maria Williams and Mellor’s discussion of uncanonized abolitionist writings by canonical and noncanonical writers share conclusions drawn in Makdisi’s analysis of Shelley, a second major emphasis of the editors is foregrounded: the argument that Romantic canonicity is very much a historical product. The opposition between canonical and noncanonical works is as fluid as the relations between imperial periphery and metropolitan centre, and the histories of both oppositions, as this collection and Trumpener’s literary history both illustrate, are usefully read together.
- Constructing American Biography by Victoria Lamont
Books reviewed: Constructing American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America by Scott E. Casper
- Seven Days in Detail by Nathan Whitlock
Books reviewed: A Week of This: A Novel in Seven Days by Nathan Whitlock
- Surface Dwellers by Brett Josef Grubisic
Books reviewed: JPod by Douglas Coupland
- The Point of the Story by Gloria Nne Onyeoziri
Books reviewed: Aphorism in the Francophone Novel of the Twentieth Century by Mark Bell
- "An Alien Soil" by Dorothy F. Lane
Books reviewed: Slammin' Tar by Cecil Foster and The Origin of Waves by Austin Clarke
MLA: Burgess, Miranda. Romantic Colonies. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #165 (Summer 2000), (Brochu, Buckler, Davies, Lowry, Ondaatje). (pg. 173 - 175)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.