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Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture
In the 1723 Journal of a Voyage up the Gambia, an English narrator describes the native translators vital to the expedition's success as being "Black as Coal." Such a description of dark skin color was not unusual for eighteenth-century Britons—but neither was the statement that followed: "here, thro' Custom, (being Christians) they account themselves White Men." The Complexion of Race asks how such categories would have been possible, when and how such statements came to seem illogical, and how our understanding of the eighteenth century has been distorted by the imposition of nineteenth and twentieth century notions of race on an earlier period.
Wheeler traces the emergence of skin color as a predominant marker of identity in British thought and juxtaposes the Enlightenment's scientific speculation on the biology of race with accounts in travel literature, fiction, and other documents that remain grounded in different models of human variety. As a consequence of a burgeoning empire in the second half of the eighteenth century, English writers were increasingly preoccupied with differentiating the British nation from its imperial outposts by naming traits that set off the rulers from the ruled; although race was one of these traits, it was by no means the distinguishing one. In the fiction of the time, non-European characters could still be "redeemed" by baptism or conversion and the British nation could embrace its mixed-race progeny. In Wheeler's eighteenth century we see the coexistence of two systems of racialization and to detect a moment when an older order, based on the division between Christian and heathen, gives way to a new one based on the assertion of difference between black and white.
That the poet John Gower was a major literary figure in England at the close of the fourteenth century is no longer in question. Scholarly attention paid to him and to his work over the past twenty- five years has redeemed him from an undeserved obscurity imposed by the preceding two hundred. The facts of his life and career are now documented, and recent critical assessment has placed his achievement most accurately alongside Chaucer's, Langland's, and the Gawain- poet's.
Unique among his contemporaries, all of whom undoubtedly read and used French in some measure, Gower alone has left us a significant body of verse and prose in Anglo-Norman; chiefly, the twelve-stanza poem Mirour de l-Omme, the Cinkante Balades, and the Traitié pour les amantz marietz. We are offered in this concordance of his Anglo- Norman work a unique opportunity to view a poetic language as it was written and read in England until Gower's death in 1408 and beyond.
As seventeenth-century England wrestled with the aftereffects of the Reformation, the personal frequently conflicted with the political. In speeches, political pamphlets, and other works of religious controversy, writers from the reign of James I to that of James II unexpectedly erupt into autobiography. John Milton famously interrupts his arguments against episcopacy with autobiographical accounts of his poetic hopes and dreams, while John Donne's attempts to describe his conversion from Catholicism wind up obscuring rather than explaining. Similar moments appear in the works of Thomas Browne, John Bunyan, and the two King Jameses themselves. These autobiographies are familiar enough that their peculiarities have frequently been overlooked in scholarship, but as Brooke Conti notes, they sit uneasily within their surrounding material as well as within the conventions of confessional literature that preceded them.
Confessions of Faith in Early Modern England positions works such as Milton's political tracts, Donne's polemical and devotional prose, Browne's Religio Medici, and Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners as products of the era's tense political climate, illuminating how the pressures of public self-declaration and allegiance led to autobiographical writings that often concealed more than they revealed. For these authors, autobiography was less a genre than a device to negotiate competing political, personal, and psychological demands. The complex works Conti explores provide a privileged window into the pressures placed on early modern religious identity, underscoring that it was no simple matter for these authors to tell the truth of their interior life—even to themselves.
Vol. 39 (2007) through current issue
Since its founding in 1968, Conradiana has presented its audience with the newest and best in Conrad scholarship and criticism, including reminiscences of eminent Conradians, detailed textual studies, biographical finds, new critical readings, and exciting applications of the newer critical modes.
Provincial Belief and the Making of Joyce and Rushdie
In Conspicuous Bodies: Provincial Belief and the Making of Joyce and Rushdie, Jean Kane re-examines the literature of James Joyce and Salman Rushdie from a post-secularist perspective, arguing that their respective religions hold critical importance in their works. Though Joyce and Rushdie were initially received as cosmopolitans, both authors subsequently reframed their public images and aligned themselves instead with a provincial religious identity, which emphasized the interconnections between religious devotion and embodiment. At the same time, both Joyce and Rushdie managed to resist the doctrinal content of their religions. Conspicuous Bodies presents Joyce as a founder and Rushdie as an inheritor of a distinctive discourse of belief about the importance of physical bodies and knowledge in religious practice. In doing so, it moves the reception of Joyce and Rushdie away from what previous critics have emphasized—away from questions of aesthetics and from a narrow understanding of belief—and instead questions the assumption that belief should be segregated from matters of physicality and knowledge. Kane reintroduces the concept of spiritual embodiment in order to expand our understanding of what counts as spiritual agency in non-western and minority literatures.
Constancy and the Ethics of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park offers a rigorous philosophical examination of the novel, the first book-length, close reading to do so.
Shakespeare's England and the New Historical Fiction
Taking its title from Umberto Eco’s postscript to The Name of the Rose, the novel that inaugurated the New Historical Fiction in the early 1980s, Constructing the World provides a guide to the genre’s defining characteristics. It also serves as a lively account of the way Shakespeare, Marlowe, Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth I, and their contemporaries have been depicted by such writers as Anthony Burgess, George Garrett, Patricia Finney, Barry Unsworth, and Rosalind Miles. Innovative historical novels written during the past two or three decades have transformed the genre, producing some extraordinary bestsellers as well as less widely read serious fiction. Shakespearean scholar Martha Tuck Rozett engages in an ongoing conversation about the genre of historical fiction, drawing attention to the metacommentary contained in “Afterwords” or “Historical Notes”; the imaginative reconstruction of the diction and mentality of the past; the way Shakespearean phrases, names, and themes are appropriated; and the counterfactual scenarios writers invent as they reinvent the past.
In Contemporary Irish Poetry and the Pastoral Tradition, Donna L. Potts closely examines the pastoral genre in the work of six Irish poets writing today. Through the exploration of the poets and their works, she reveals the wide range of purposes that pastoral has served in both Northern Ireland and the Republic: a postcolonial critique of British imperialism; a response to modernity, industrialization, and globalization; a way of uncovering political and social repercussions of gendered representations of Ireland; and, more recently, a means for conveying environmentalism’s more complex understanding of the value of nature.
For her discussion, Potts has chosen six poets who have written significant collections of pastoral poetry and whose work is in dialogue with both the pastoral tradition and other contemporary pastoral poets. Three poets are men—John Montague, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley—while three are women—Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. Five are English-language authors, while the sixth—Ní Dhomhnaill—writes in Irish. Additionally, some of the poets hail from the Republic, while others originate from Northern Ireland. Potts contends that while both Irish Republic and Northern Irish poets respond to a shared history of British colonization in their pastorals, the 1921 partition of the country caused the pastoral tradition to evolve differently on either side of the border, primarily because of the North’s more rapid industrialization; its more heavily Protestant population, whose response to environmentalism was somewhat different than that of the Republic’s predominantly Catholic population; as well the greater impact of the world wars and the Irish Troubles.
In an important distinction from other studies of Irish poetry, Potts moves beyond the influence of history and politics on contemporary Irish pastoral poetry to consider the relatively recent influence of ecology. Contemporary Irish poets often rely on the motif of the pastoral retreat to highlight various environmental threats to those retreats—whether they be high-rises, motorways, global warming, or acid rain. Potts concludes by speculating on the future of pastoral in contemporary Irish poetry through her examination of more recent poets—including Moya Cannon and Paula Meehan—as well as other genres such as film, drama, and fiction.
"Who's Afraid of Edna O'Brien?" asks an early interviewer in Conversations with Edna O'Brien. With over fifty years of published novels, biographies, plays, telecasts, short stories, and more, it is hard not to be intimidated by her. An acclaimed and controversial Irish writer, O'Brien (b. 1932) saw her early works, starting in 1960 with The Country Girls, banned and burned in Ireland, but often read in secret. Her contemporary work continues to spark debates on the rigors and challenges of Catholic conservatism and the struggle for women to make a place for themselves in the world without anxiety and guilt. The raw nerve of emotion at the heart of her lyrical prose provokes readers, challenges politicians, and proves difficult for critics to place her.
In these interviews, O'Brien finds her own critical voice and moves interviewers away from a focus on her life as the "once infamous Edna" toward a focus on her works. Parallels between Edna O'Brien and her literary muse and mentor, James Joyce, are often cited in interviews such as Phillip Roth's description of The Country Girls as "rural Dubliners." While Joyce is the centerpiece of O'Brien's literary pantheon, allusions to writers such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, Beckett, and Woolf become a medium for her critical voice. Conversations with contemporary writers Phillip Roth and Glenn Patterson reveal Edna O'Brien's sense of herself as a contemporary writer. The final interview included here, with BBC personality William Crawley at Queen's University, Belfast, is a synthesis of her acceptance and fame as an Irish writer and an Irish woman and an affirmation of her literary authority.