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English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 50.3 (2007) 363-367

| Précis Reviews |
Reviewed by
Nadine Cooper
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Dentith, Simon. Epic and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Britain. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. vii + 245 pp. $85.00

An expansive study of an expansive subject, Dentith's book questions how nineteenth-century writers reconceived both ancient and eighteenth-century understandings of "epic" to provide various templates, or visions, of their own Victorian society. Could epic primitivism still be used "for the possibility of writing a national epic and for the conception of empire and its subject peoples"? The first half of the book investigates the role of the epic in poetry and the ballad form whereas the second half tends to focus more on the novel. After laying out the groundwork for his premises in a discussion of Homer, Ossian, and Victorian contemporary criticism, Dentith nicely transitions to a chapter concerning "Walter Scott and Heroic Minstrelsy." Dentith also spends some time in an interesting juxtaposition of the translations of Homer by Newman and Arnold—questioning how (or should) a writer translate an ancient text to make it more palatable to modern taste, since "the very sense of modernity, which underlies our sense of the historical alterity of those texts which emerge from social worlds which precede our own, was in part created out of the recognition of the differences that divide the modern world from Homer." Faced with the challenges involved in writing an original epic in "a world now defined as categorically unheroic," authors such as Carlyle seek to "re-enchant" the "disenchanted industrial landscape of modernity so as to make it continuous with an heroic national past." Conversely, writers such as George Eliot and Barrett Browning not only "reclaim the generic past," but also translate the "masculine epic into a feminine epic present." Chapter eight reconsiders Kipling as "bard of empire" past the cliché, and Dentith delves into the ambiguities and conflicts of the problems of empire and atavism in the final chapters of the book (chapter nine focuses on "epic and subject peoples of empire"). Included is an interesting discussion of adventure novels and the problematic of epic primitivism; for example, in Haggard's novels and historical accounts, the Zulus, though often imbued with heroic qualities, are still "unequivocally savages," and therefore "cannot quite appear in propria persona." In his "coda," Dentith posits "some Homeric futures" in the twentieth century. [End Page 363]

Kalliney, Peter J. Cities of Affluence and Anger: A Literary Geography of Modern Englishness. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006. 266 pp. Paper $22.50

Kalliney takes on the difficult subjects of English class politics and English national culture in an attempt to more specifically grasp that elusive concept of just what it means to be English. Rather than defining class politics as "a social and political reality," however, his aim is to consider class as a "symbolic condition, as a contentious, unstable point around which cultural texts are structured." This book uses a spectrum of literary works to "help theorize the messiness of class politics in twentieth-century England," ranging from the country-house novels Howard's End and Brideshead Revisited, to the modernist Mrs. Dalloway, to post-colonial texts such as The Satanic Verses, which, according to Kalliney, question and reconfigure a "global Englishness." Kalliney is particularly interested in how the growth of metropolitan space redefines this shadowy idea of English culture and the complex relationship between class and the city—the aim of this book being "to map the imaginative and material reordering of space." Rather than the standard trope of toxic city infiltrating the bucolic countryside and thus bringing a cultural demise, Kalliney turns this Horatian view on its head and contemplates instead how the city has become "emblematic of modern England." The author focuses on three historic periods: land reform debates, empire crises and World War I; World War II, welfare state reforms and subsequent large-scale immigrations; and lastly the 1980s, increasing "England's immersion in an emerging global...


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