Early modern discussions of British ethnographic history turn on a recurring set of references to Asia, migration, tribal unity, ancestral peoples, pagan practices, genealogies, violence, language, Christianity, mythology, and the Norman Conquest. Produced across the centuries I consider and circulated by writers who often had no direct influence on or even knowledge of one another, these tropes enable memories of a past that supports a specific socio-political present. They offer ways to think about the Nordic regions, Britain, and the historiographic connections among them that sustained national identity by means of historical division. At issue in such cultural memories is the establishment of some kind of continuity between past and present, which depends on distinctions between the two historical moments. Emerging from many early modern discussions of England’s political history was the belief that the Nordic and English peoples were of the same race and that as such they were categorically distinct from other races, especially from the French and sometimes even from the German ones. Evidence for this unity could be found in population movements and the attendant historical interactions, religious practices, and social characteristics.
Three focuses of British travel writing from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were natural history, science, and recreation. Throughout this period and often independently of one another, widely separated writers on these topics utilised a set of consistent yet contradictory images to represent their experiences. In explicit detail they described beauty but also filth, and dangers to which they responded with expressions of awe, uncertainty, and disgust. From these contradictions emerge coherent ways to look at the modern world – especially the contrasts between Britain and Scandinavia – as well as to remember the world from which it developed. The collective impact of replicated tropes rendered visits to the modern-day Nordic regions as rides on a time machine to the British medieval past.
Historical memory is situational, the result of a cultural process of construction and representation. As obviously ruinous, perverse, and even demonic as the Nazis’ methods and beliefs were, their use of Nordic imagery and ideas depends on many of the same kinds of historiographic manoeuvres and even some of the same tropes that are traced in this book. As much as the Nazis’ notions of world dominance differed from the aspirations of every English writer considered, both groups shared the strategy of incorporating a Nordic past in their cultural memories. What might be called a parallel descent from Germanic prehistory thus has unsettling epistemic implications. If memory is conditioned not only by what is being remembered but by who is doing the remembering, as many critics maintain, then the process itself – the tropes it uses and the fact that it combines them – is in some ways subject-neutral. It is such malleability and reproducibility that would allow for the creation of competing views from the same recirculated images – totalitarianism as well as fantasy. These may be the qualities that give historical memory its greatest power.
This book provocatively argues that much of what English writers of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries remembered about medieval English geography, history, religion, and literature, they remembered by means of medieval and modern Scandinavia. These memories, in turn, figure in something even broader. Protestant and fundamentally monarchical, the Nordic countries constituted a politically kindred spirit in contrast with France, Italy, and Spain. Along with the so-called Celtic fringe and overseas colonies, Scandinavia became one of the external reference points for the forging of the United Kingdom. Subject to the continual refashioning of memory, the region became at once an image of Britain’s noble past and an affirmation of its current global status, rendering trips there rides on a time machine. The book’s approach to the Anglo-Scandinavian past addresses the specific impact of Nordic materials in framing conceptions of the English Middle Ages and positions the literature of medievalism less as the cause of modern Anglo-Nordic interests than as the recurrence of the same cultural concerns that animated early modern politics, science, and natural history. Emphasising multilingual non-literary traditions (such as travel writing and ethnography) and following four topics – natural history, ethnography, moral character, and literature – the focus of Northern Memories is on how texts, with or without any direct connections to one another, reproduced shared tropes and outlooks and on how this reproduction cumulatively furthered large cultural ideas.
By the Anglo-Scandinavian heuristic, travelling in Scandinavia could serve as a virtual trip through time. The region was necessary, familiar, and even, at times, charming. Yet it was the past: what Britain had been and, in an increasingly evolutionary outlook on human experience, what Britain had moved far beyond. Almost like a folk museum, the Nordic region was a place where travellers could talk with people in period costumes, eat period foods, watch period handicrafts being made, buy souvenirs, and walk through a carefully preserved period landscape. The region was necessary, familiar, and even, at times, charming. Yet it was the past: what Britain had been and, in an increasingly stratified view of human experience (Evolutionary Time, according to Johannes Fabian) what Britain had moved far beyond. Clothing, religion, lifestyle, occupations, buildings, personal habits, food – all of these therefore had authentic and immediate interest as what might be called tropes of tactile historiography, potentially revealing something about moral character, whether that of the current Nordic peoples or of the Britons imagined to have evolved from them.
Northern Memories concerns how English writers of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries remembered Scandinavia, especially Iceland and Norway; how by remembering Scandinavia and its people they furthered contemporary sentiments not simply about that region but about the emerging global role of Great Britain; and how they often did so by selectively collapsing the contemporary world and the Middle Ages, providing memories of both in the process. More than simply a literary issue, the construction of an Anglo-Scandinavian ethnicity served as an organising principle for cultural politics, providing ways to read past and present alike as testaments to British exceptionalism. Much of what English critics of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries remembered about medieval English geography, history, religion, and literature, they remembered by means of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. As British visitors and thinkers encountered the Scandinavian ‘present’ in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, they similarly found evidence for the British past. Rather than a source study that traces the genealogy of cultural ideas, political contacts, or literary influences, this book is above all a theoretical inquiry about the persistence, independent imitation, and reproduction of Nordic tropes for the imagining of Britain and its medieval past.
Focused on the historical relations between English and the Nordic languages and on the relevance of Nordic literature to British experience, memories produced by language and literature worked towards this same end of fashioning a medieval memory. Lacking the mythology of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, as well as the sagas’ detailed descriptions of daily life in the Middle Ages, English readers could find in Norse literature reasons to believe there had been comparable material in English literary history and that what Norse literature described equally might have been said about the English experience. Similarities between Old English and Old Norse likewise could be understood to affirm the essential sameness of those who spoke the languages. With the theoretical underpinning of Herder’s and von Humboldt’s reflections on social identity, the putatively shared language and literature identified in this way became much more than a scholarly diversion. Like tropes of travel, ethnicity, and personal identity, replicated references to sagas, Eddas, speakers, poets, verse forms, translation, unintelligibility, dialects, and languages (medieval and modern) fashioned a historical identity worth remembering for what it revealed about the modern world and for how it illustrated contemporary divergences from its historical origins.
This book provides a sense of the continuing debates about postcolonialism while seeking to anchor some of its key themes and vocabularies securely. It takes as its primary focus, the various reading practices which distinguish and characterise much of the field - practices which for the purpose of this book attend chiefly to literary texts, but which can be applied beyond a strictly literary context to other cultural phenomena. The book introduces some major areas of enquiry within postcolonialism, as well as offers concrete examples of various kinds of relevant reading and writing practices. It provides a brief historical sketch of colonialism and decolonisation, providing the intellectual contexts and development of postcolonialism. The book approaches various attitudes towards nationalist representations in literary and other writings during the busy period of decolonisation in the 1950s and 1960s. It then deals with national traditions and national history, and the conflict between national liberation and imperialist domination. Divisions within the nation such as ethnicity, language, gender and eliteness which threaten the realisation of its progressive ideals are discussed, with attention on Partha Chatterjee's narrative of Indian nationalism and Chinua Achebe's novel Anthills of the Savannah. Other discussions include the re-reading of literary 'classics', the re-writing of received literary texts by postcolonial writers, postcolonial feminist criticism, and migration and diaspora in the context of decolonisation. The 'STOP and THINK' section in each chapter identify focal points of debate for readers to pursue critically.
Theory often eclipses the text, just as the moon's shadow obscures the sun in an eclipse, so that the text loses its own voice and begins to voice theory. This book provides summaries or descriptions of a number of important theoretical essays. It commences with an account of the 'liberal humanism' against which all newer critical approaches to literature, broadly speaking, define themselves. The book suggests a useful form of intensive reading, which breaks down the reading of a difficult chapter or article into five stages, as designated by the letters 'SQRRR': Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review. It explains the rise of English studies by indicating what higher education was like in England until the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The book talks about the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Derrida. It lists some differences and distinctions between structuralism and post-structuralism under the four headings: origins, tone and style, attitude to language, and project. Providing a clear example of deconstructive practice, the book then describes three stages of the deconstructive process: the verbal, the textual, and the linguistic. It includes information on some important characteristics of literary modernism practiced by various writers, psychoanalytic criticism, feminist criticism and queer theory. The book presents an example of Marxist criticism, and discusses the overlap between cultural materialism and new historicism, specific differences between conventional close reading and stylistics and insights on narratology. It covers the story of literary theory through ten key events.
This chapter deals with migration and diaspora primarily in the context of decolonisation. It focuses on the theme of identity, and defines some conceptual tools, such as 'hybridity', 'borders', 'new ethnicities' and 'cultural diversity', that have been pursued in postcolonial studies. The chapter discusses Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness which deals in the main with the ancestors of the African slaves in the Caribbean, the US and Britain. It analyzes Hanif Kureishi's articulation of his identity crisis and the perilous intermediate position that both migrants and their children are deemed to occupy: living 'in-between' different nations. The chapter critically examines conceptual tools and uses them to help us read Beryl Gilroy's novel of diaspora identities, Boy-Sandwich. STOP and THINK sections in the chapter pose questions concerning diaspora identities to assist the reader in making judgements on his own about the ideas raised within postcolonialism.