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Title:Ancestral voices: philological nationalism in the British Romantic period
Author(s):Johnson, Dalton
Director of Research:Underwood, Ted
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Underwood, Ted
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Wood, Gillen; Markley, Robert; Pollock, Anthony
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:The central goal of this project is to explore the intersection of thinking on language and nationalism in the British Romantic period. This exploration prompts a reevaluation of the intellectual heritage of the Romantic period, and also a reevaluation of the rise of philological nationalism in Britain, which has traditionally been assigned to the Victorian period. One of the great shifts brought by philology in the eighteenth century was to situate language in human history. The Enlightenment reduced long-enshrined institutions such as monarchy, religion, and language to human constructions subject to change. The language theory emerging from this framework was concerned with exploring the human origins and progress of language, and it suggested to the Romantics interest in native language in Britain. This new paradigm fostered the imagination of national identity based upon shared cultural history, in the particular form of language. This study draws upon primary philological texts from the eighteenth century, and considers their influence on writers in the British Romantic period. This consideration finds William Wordsworth using early philology as a framework within which to negotiate his senses of homelessness and failed revolutionary hopes. I also trace Walter Scott's concern with distinguishing between Celtic and Anglo-Saxon roots in Scotland’s cultural and linguistic heritage, and find him attempting to reify Scottish history through what we may call philological reconstruction. Looking at another novelist, I argue that Mary Shelley, with Frankenstein, offers a sharp critique of how the manipulation of meaning creates chaos in societal institutions in the age of nationalism. Turning back to poetry, I suggest that John Keats engages -- over the course of several poems and letters -- in a critical negotiation of different modes of cultural identification, from religion, to Hellenism, to what he considers 'pure English.' Underlying a shift in cultural concepts of identification is the premise that such concepts are subject to being shifted. This premise of a malleability of cultural identification in general becomes a persistent feature of philological nationalism in British Romantic period writing. While emphasis on mutability brought the possibility of meaningful cultural redefinition, it also meant that meaning could be manipulated, or could prove elusive. In the writing of the British Romantic period that this study explores, the negotiation of cultural identity through language, while valued and valuable, is often tenuous, and the resultant form of nationalism is highly malleable.
Issue Date:2015-04-22
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Dalton Johnson
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-07-22
Date Deposited:May 2015

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