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  • Local Negotiations of English Nationhood, 1570-1680 by John M. Adrian
  • Conal Condren
Adrian, John M. , Local Negotiations of English Nationhood, 1570-1680 (Early Modern Literature in History), Houndmills, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011; hardback; pp. 248; 5 b/w illustrations; R.R.P £50.00; ISBN 9780230277717.

This study is designed to qualify and complement, rather than dismantle those tracing a linear trajectory of developing nationhood in England from the sixteenth century. It is a valuable corrective. It begins with an overview of the factors involved in expressions of local identity, such as dialect, topography, customs, games, and their variable relationships with the national, arguing that along with the development of nationhood, a changing continuity of local identity provided a counterpoint; indeed, nationhood made the sense of the local self-conscious. Thus map-making, among other geographical writings discussed, gave a picture of the nation by describing localities; if travel broadened the mind, returning home could affirm a preference for the familiar. More significantly, Adrian suggests that a number of works conventionally assigned to the project of nation building, principally had a localizing focus. Further, what often mattered about place was the body of specific values for which it might stand, sometimes in opposition to, or as an escape from the national. Hence, in a weak sense, at least, evocation of the local had an ideological resonance.

In the bulk of the book, Adrian turns to a number of authors to flesh out these themes. In Chapter 2, he discusses William Lambarde's chorography, the Perambulation of Kent (1570) as a response to the centralizing impact of the Tudor revolution in government. In Chapter 3, he argues that Michael Drayton appropriated chorography in the idiom of Lambarde to create localizing mythologies in critical counterpoint to Jacobean court culture. Chapter 4 treats Herbert's Country Parson as a rejection of the imposition of Laudian church uniformity to the detriment of a local religious practice. Chapter 5 discusses the contrasting reactions of Izaak Walton and Lucy Hutchinson to the disasters of civil war; the royalist Walton focusing on the river, specifically the Lea, in telling proximity to London; the parliamentarian Hutchinson defending her husband as a man of Nottingham, his selfless service to his region, emblematic of a national interest. Chapter 6 discusses what Adrian suggests must seem counter-intuitive, the relevance of empire for understanding the country house poem. There is a succinct conclusion and a select (patchy) bibliography.

The understanding of dialect seems rudimentary, and more might have been made of pastoral; but there is both thematic coherence and a chronological spread sufficient to flesh out and support the case initially made. The whole [End Page 205] is so courteous that the implicit critical edge is almost blunted. It is also unpretentious and clearly written, sufficient for the few infelicities to stand out rather sharply (over-use of the ambiguous 'site', misuse of 'disinterest') and trying (twice) not 'to oversimplify' (pp. 17, 42). Specialists in all the authors treated are likely to find value here, and the argument is suggestive of further lines of enquiry. What, for example, can one make of praises of locality in Latin? Hobbes's De mirabilibus pecci, Carmen is partially in the idiom of Drayton's treatment of the Peak district in Poly-Olbion, but how does the shift to the trans-national language of the educated cast light on the local/ national dichotomy? Such a question, however, draws attention to the terms in which the study is conducted.

The defining the bi-conditionality of the study is oversimplified, and historiographically questionable. The assumed project of nation building, drawing substantially on Richard Helgerson's important work, needed more critical attention. Michael Braddick has ably demonstrated in analysing a directly analogous, even overlapping narrative, state building, that end result does not entitle us to infer cohering strategy towards it. There is also no proper discussion here of the possible differences between nationalism, in any case, a nineteenth-century coinage projected onto the material, and patriotism, an eighteenth-century one (not even indexed). The result is to lose a crucial aspect of discussion, the variable ways in which nation as a marker of identity differed from...


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