- Nation and Migration: The Making of British Atlantic Literature, 1765–1835 by Juliet Shields
Juliet Shields's aim to "decenter the Anglo-American focus of transatlantic literary studies by extending the reach of archipelagic criticism to include the literature of the early American republic" is fully realized in this systematic study of Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and American identities on both sides of the Atlantic (139). She organizes her study around each of these regions and the literary genres in which they are represented in order to complicate scholarly narratives that continue to position them against a metropolitan England.
Chapter 1 examines Samuel Johnson's Taxation No Tyranny alongside Edmund Burke's "Speech on Conciliation with America" and John Jay's contributions to the Federalist Papers. This comparative approach enables Shields to examine [End Page 352] the strategic deployment of racialized discourses by an English center and its subordinate and colonized possessions. In particular, she demonstrates how while Johnson defines English public spirit as the foundation of liberty, Burke insists on Ireland's and Scotland's resistance to submission as definitive of a British love of liberty. Interestingly, Shields also outlines how Jay and his detractors deploy both of these concepts in defense of America as an ethnically homogeneous republic.
The role of the Gothic in Romantic Irish and American novels produces an opportunity for Shields to reconsider the nature of political threat within an American post-revolutionary context. In chapter 2, she examines Charles Brockden Brown's fiction as both an American response to the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and a manifestation of the motives behind the United States' 1798 Naturalization Act and the Alien and Sedition Acts. Through close reading of the relationship between the Irish, the American Indians, and the occult in Brockden Brown's work, Shields reveals American anxieties about the role of homogeneity, both racial and cultural, in the new republic.
Chapters 3 and 4 explore the depiction of American Indians in the work of James Fenimore Cooper, William Joseph Snelling, and early nineteenth-century repetitions of the Welsh legend of Prince Madoc, the purported twelfth-century discoverer and settler of the North American continent. Shields first focuses on representations of the Scottish to come to opposing conclusions about the role of racial purity in The Last of the Mohicans and Snelling's Tales of the Northwest; or Sketches of Indian Life and Character. Specifically, she identifies how both fictions rely on a Scottish identity "defined by chivalry and cunning, courtesy and prudence" and perceived as archaic and ultimately disposable in its replacement by more commercially progressive behaviors (90). Shields subsequently focuses on the complexity of Welsh history to explain Robert Southey's Madoc and its descriptions of an alternative American tradition of martial valor and colonial resistance. She also analyzes Gilbert Imlay's novel The Emigrants; or the History of an Expatriated Family as an example of England's ongoing interest in and claim upon Western American territories.
The literary sketch is the target of Shields's last chapter, in which she considers how American writers, like those in Ireland and Scotland, challenged London's literary centrality within the British Atlantic. Washington Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon is celebrated for its innovations of addressing both American and British readers while simultaneously offering tales of life in both the old world and the new. However, Shields compares Sidney Owenson's Patriotic Sketches of Ireland to Mary Russell Mitford's Our Village to conclude that while both Irish and American writers recognized regional identities as components of a national one, American writers were distinct in their incorporation of migration and emigration on both the regional and national levels.
Shields's monograph is essential reading for anyone engaged in research on the Anglophone Atlantic world. Not only does she provide essential political and historical context for the focus of each chapter's reasoned literary analysis, she proves, unquestionably, the ongoing and transformative role of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales in shaping regional, British, and American identities. Shields's study...