- Folklore and Nationalism in Europe During the Long Nineteenth Century ed. by Timothy Baycroft, David Hopkin
For anyone interested in the role that nationalism played in the development of nineteenth-century folklore (or vice versa, the role that folklore played in the rise of nationalism and transnationalism), this is the book for you. In addition to nationalism and folklore, the contributors touch on issues related to orality and literature, and they provide valuable historical information about the intersections of the dominant high culture with artisan and vernacular culture on a national and transnational level that suggests we cannot grasp any genre of the nineteenth century, such as the literary fairy tale, unless we have a holistic interdisciplinary approach that encompasses the intersections.
There are seventeen essays in this “fabulous” book edited by Timothy Bay-croft and David Hopkin—fabulous because the essays are all gems and contain an incredible treasure of insights into neglected topics that need more attention by researchers from different fields. For instance, some of the subjects covered are the oral epic (Joep Leersen), the opera (Krisztina Lajosi), visual culture (Ilia Roubanis), European architecture (Peter Blundell Jones), world’s fairs (Angela Schwarz), museums (Daniel DeGroff and Anne Dymond), folklore as a weapon in Alsace (Detmar Klein), Irish antiquaries (Clare O’Halloran), ballad revival (David Atkinson), national drama in Iceland (Terry Gunnell), [End Page 153] England allegedly as a land without folklore (Jonathan Roper), the establishment of the Folklore Society in England and imperialism (Chris Wingfield and Chris Gosden), oral traditions in Finland (Pertti Anttonen), and the sorrowful folk song in Finland (Vesa Kurkela). The contributors are professors and scholars of folklore, history, archeology, architecture, English literature, art history, music, modern European literature, comparative folklore, and public administration. They have different backgrounds and methodological approaches, but they are all dedicated to understanding how the voices and artwork of the folk merge from below in exciting and diverse ways with the rising bourgeois culture to form or resist what might be called national culture or nationalist movements.
Almost all the essays seek to dismiss easy dichotomous interpretations of folkloristic art, exhibitions, and literature that link bourgeois museum curators, administrators, and folklorists to ideologies that rationalize nationalist or colonialist intentions and that betray the needs of the people. As Hopkin notes, “Folklore was not national, or even regional, it was simultaneously more generalised and more particular. It was this fact that late nineteenth-century folk-lorists set out to explain. Consequently, rather than being, as Barry Reay alleges, in ‘absolute denial about the complexity of cultural interaction, the hybridity of orality and literacy, tradition and modernity,’ folklorists were pioneer investigators of these topics, from whom cultural historians could still profitably learn” (391).
Baycroft makes a similar point in his introduction by emphasizing how much of the work done on folklore in the nineteenth century was “not overtly political in intent at all, and was undertaken because of a romantic interest in the people, or as part of wider scientific investigations by those interested in sociology or anthropology such as they could be understood through the study of folklore, folk customs, and tradition. In this sense the quest for authenticity was not primarily about political legitimacy, but about scientific accuracy, although the lines were often blurred between these two, as the individuals concerned had mixed motives” (8).
Regrettably, Baycroft and Hopkin do not include—and this is a minor quibble—a comprehensive essay that deals with the interaction between the oral folktale and the literary fairy tale, one that investigates how this interaction relates to the rise of nationalism, the appropriation of oral folktales, and the “authenticity” of popular literature. However, two excellent essays do touch on these topics and might serve as touchstones for further research about the relationship between oral and literary texts and nationalism: Sarah Hines’s “Narrating Scotland: Andrew Lang’s Coloured Fairy Book Collection, The Gold of Fairnilee, and ‘A Creelfull of Celtic Stories’” and Pertti Anttonen’s “Oral Traditions and the Making of the Finnish Nation.” Hines’s essay...