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New Cultural Studies

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The Complexion of Race

Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture

By Roxann Wheeler

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.

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Cultural Politics--Queer Reading

By Alan Sinfield

Was Shakespeare gay? Is The Merchant of Venice anti-Semitic? How does mainstream reading differ from that of subcultural groups? In this lively and readable book, Alan Sinfield challenges the assumptions of English literature and investigates the principles and practices that may inform lesbian and gay reading.

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Culture and Adultery

The Novel, the Newspaper, and the Law, 1857-1914

By Barbara Leckie

Adultery, it is often assumed, was not a major concern of English culture during the Victorian age, and the apparent absence of adultery—indeed, of all explicit representations of sexuality—in turn made censorship for obscene libel unnecessary. Very few writers, conventional wisdom has it, were bold enough to defy the powerful implicit constraints imposed upon literary production.

If we find no English Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, Barbara Leckie nevertheless demonstrates that adultery preoccupied English culture during this period. After the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 was passed, adultery was prominently discussed in the Divorce Court. Transcriptions of divorce trials were an immensely popular front-page feature of almost all daily newspapers for more than fifty years. At the same time as narratives of adultery stood at the center of sensation novels such as Mary Elizabeth Bradden's The Doctor's Wife, literary reviews and cultural debates strongly encouraged serious novelists to avoid the topic.

In Culture and Adultery, Leckie mines novels, newspapers, court and Parliamentary records to explore several related sets of issues. How, first, did adultery become "visible" in the public sphere in the second half of the nineteenth century? Why, conversely, has the discursive history of adultery been deemphasized in the English critical tradition? And how is the history of the Victorian and early twentieth-century English novel revised when the culture's concern with adultery and censorship are reintroduced?

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Fair Exotics

Xenophobic Subjects in English Literature, 1720-1850

By Rajani Sudan

Arguing that the major hallmarks of Romantic literature—inwardness, emphasis on subjectivity, the individual authorship of selves and texts—were forged during the Enlightenment, Rajani Sudan traces the connections between literary sensibility and British encounters with those persons, ideas, and territories that lay uneasily beyond the national border. The urge to colonize and discover embraced both an interest in foreign "fair exotics" and a deeply rooted sense of their otherness.

Fair Exotics develops a revisionist reading of the period of the British Enlightenment and Romanticism, an age during which England was most aggressively building its empire. By looking at canonical texts, including Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Johnson's Dictionary, De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and Bronte's Villette, Sudan shows how the imaginative subject is based on a sense of exoticism created by a pervasive fear of what is foreign. Indeed, as Sudan clarifies, xenophobia is the underpinning not only of nationalism and imperialism but of Romantic subjectivity as well.

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Forms and Meanings

Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer

By Roger Chartier

In this provocative work, Roger Chartier continues his extraordinarily influential consideration of the forms of production, dissemination, and interpretation of discourse in Early Modern Europe. Chartier here examines the relationship between patronage and the market, and explores how the form in which a text is transmitted not only constrains the production of meaning but defines and constructs its audience.

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Holy Wednesday

A Nahua Drama from Early Colonial Mexico

By Louise M. Burkhart

Identified only in 1986, the Nahuatl Holy Week play is the earliest known dramatic script in any Native American language. In Holy Wednesday, Louise Burkhart presents side-by-side English translations of the Nahuatl play and its Spanish source. An accompanying commentary analyzes the differences between the two versions to reveal how the native author altered the Spanish text to fit his own aesthetic sensibility and the broader discursive universe of the Nahua church. A richly detailed introduction places both works and their creators within the cultural and political contexts of late sixteenth-century Mexico and Spain.

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Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh

By Karma Lochrie

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 1999

Karma Lochrie demonstrates that women were associated not with the body but rather with the flesh, that disruptive aspect of body and soul which Augustine claimed was fissured with the Fall of Man. It is within this framework that she reads The Book of Margery Kempe, demonstrating the ways in which Kempe exploited the gendered ideologies of flesh and text through her controversial practices of writing, her inappropriate-seeming laughter, and the most notorious aspect of her mysticism, her "hysterical" weeping expressions of religious desire. Lochrie challenges prevailing scholarly assumptions of Kempe's illiteracy, her role in the writing of her book, her misunderstanding of mystical concepts, and the failure of her book to influence a reading community. In her work and her life, Kempe consistently crossed the barriers of those cultural taboos designed to exclude and silence her.

Instead of viewing Kempe as marginal to the great mystical and literary traditions of the late Middle Ages, this study takes her seriously as a woman responding to the cultural constraints and exclusions of her time. Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh will be of interest to students and scholars of medieval studies, intellectual history, and feminist theory.

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Material London, ca. 1600

Edited by Lena Cowen Orlin

Between 1500 and 1700, London grew from a minor national capital to the largest city in Europe. The defining period of growth was the period from 1550 to 1650, the midpoint of which coincided with the end of Elizabeth I's reign and the height of Shakespeare's theatrical career.

In Material London, ca. 1600, Lena Cowen Orlin and a distinguished group of social, intellectual, urban, architectural, and agrarian historians, archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, and literary critics explore the ideas, structures, and practices that distinguished London before the Great Fire, basing their investigations on the material traces in artifacts, playtexts, documents, graphic arts, and archaeological remains.

In order to evoke "material London, ca. 1600," each scholar examines a different aspect of one of the great world cities at a critical moment in Western history. Several chapters give broad panoramic and authoritative views: what architectural forms characterized the built city around 1600; how the public theatre established its claim on the city; how London's citizens incorporated the new commercialism of their culture into their moral views. Other essays offer sharply focused studies: how Irish mantles were adopted as elite fashions in the hybrid culture of the court; how the city authorities clashed with the church hierarchy over the building of a small bookshop; how London figured in Ben Jonson's exploration of the role of the poet.

Although all the authors situate the material world of early modern London—its objects, products, literatures, built environment, and economic practices—in its broader political and cultural contexts, provocative debates and exchanges remain both within and between the essays as to what constitutes "material London, ca. 1600."

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Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England

Literature, Culture, Kinship, and Kingship

By Bruce Thomas Boehrer

In Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England, Bruce Thomas Boehrer argues that a preoccupation with incest is built not the dominant social and cultural concerns of early modern England. Proceeding from a study of Henry III's divorce and succession legislation, through the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I, this work examines the interrelation between family politics and literary expression in and around the English royal court.

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Novel Possibilities

Fiction and the Formation of Early Victorian Culture

By Joseph W. Childers

Joseph Childers contends that novels such as Benjamin Disraeli's Coningsby, Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, and Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke were in direct competition with other forms of public discourse for interpretive dominance of their age. Childers examines the interactions between the novel and a set of texts generated by parliamentary and radical politics, the sanitation reform movement, and religion. Reversing the position of earlier studies of this period, he argues that the novel was in fact constitutive of—and often provided the model for—texts as diverse as the political agendas of Robert Peel and T. B. Macaulay or Edwin Chadwick's enormously important Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, with its seemingly encyclopedic description of the conditions of poverty.

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