Alien Albion: Literature and Immigration in Early Modern England by Scott Oldenburg (review)
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Reviewed by
Scott Oldenburg. Alien Albion: Literature and Immigration in Early Modern England. University of Toronto Press 2014. viii, 290. $32.95

In Alien Albion, Scott Oldenburg sets out to examine "early English texts imagining a community that might accommodate the presence of immigrants in England." He takes care to qualify his terms directly and indirectly in his introduction: texts of imagination may more or less tell us about facts on the ground; a community does not have to be blissful, it just has to be accommodating. To this end, he reads the English (Londoners, for the most part) as less involved in promulgating a national identity and more engaged in various modes of simultaneously insular and expansive recognition of Anglo-foreign relations: "a collective identity that is not recognizably national, but rather global or multicultural."

Oldenburg organizes the book into three subtitled sections: "Sectarian Inclusivity" studies the English looking across geographical and ideological borders to accept foreigners as co-habiters and co-workers; "Provincial Globalism" (or Euro-ism) sees the English engaging with multiple aspects of foreignness while maintaining a certain level of contradictory prejudice or "provincialism"/conservatism; "Worldy Domesticity" is more specifi-cally concerned with the widespread Anglo-foreign interactions based on property exchange and occupation.

In section one, Oldenburg argues that the Marian governmental stance against aliens did not fully represent English common feeling. Dramatic representations of aliens may have pedaled stereotype and scapegoating but also questioned the usefulness of such simplification. Court entertainment could afford to be more bluntly anti-alien whereas the popular [End Page 175] theatre enjoyed highlighting ways in which international relations in England work for, rather than against, the wealth, health, and stability of the realm. Thus the mid- and late-sixteenth-century Tudors demonstrated a partial ability "to re-imagine the cultural borders of England to include immigrants"; this section's comprehensive and subtle reading of Anne Dowriche's French Historie and Marlowe's The Massacre at Paris demonstrates the English willingness to empathize with socio-religious migrants and to practice appropriate hospitality.

Section two brings together a familiar pairing, Deloney and Dekker, and argues tightly for the texts' insistence on necessary "economic interdependence of labourers and merchants" in England and the growing importance of a culture of hospitality. Oldenburg's readings against the commonsense grain of several 1580s and 1590s texts can feel by turn liberatingly revisionist and unnecessarily strained. Always useful at the forefront, however, is his ability to demonstrate the fascinating ways in which the literature's concerns over the political dangers associated with immigration either resolve in, or co-habit with, representations of the benefits associated with such risks.

In the third section, Oldenburg traces the resistance (especially in immigrant communities) to Anglo-alien marriages but nevertheless finds historical and fictional texts recording – and to various extents accepting or approving of – the "worldly domesticity" of international households. This section uses two plays, Marston's The Dutch Courtesan and Haughton's Englishmen for My Money, to show how the perceived social "jumble" caused by the alien presence in London and England is sorted out by a cross-cultural desire for stable relationships. The plays, in spite of employing more or less serious jibes at foreignness, work toward representations of fraught but workable Anglo-alien settled (married) households. Oldenburg turns finally to Shakespeare's London life – his lodgings and theatres – infused with the influence of strangers as landlords, artisans, and business and personal acquaintances. Shakespeare's status as domestic "foreigner" in London gave him an empathetic position vis-à-vis those overseas strangers, a relationship which can be detected, argues Oldenburg, in such works as The Play of Sir Thomas More and Merry Wives.

Alien Albion's triple categorization of Anglo-alien relationships might be an overly precise organization of what Oldenburg admits are often overlapping and non-discrete experiences, and his use of the term "multiculturalism" sometimes means something akin to friendly neighbourhood or grudging acceptance rather than a genuine celebration of difference. But this powerful and careful literary study responds to such objections by encouraging us to read early modern representations of multicultural engagement as local, personal, and familial experiences ("sectarian," "provincial," and "domestic"). In...


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