Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s England and the English
A Description of England in the ‘Age of Reform‘
Hamburg 2001, 262 Seiten
ISBN 978-3-8300-0347-2 (Print)
Biographisches, England, englische Aristokratie, englische Parlamentsreform 1832, Genre der ‘Description of England‘, nationale Identität und Autostereotype, Reformer, Sprachwissenschaft, Zeitgeist im England des frühen 19. Jh.
If today Edward Bulwer-Lytton is largely remembered „as one of the dullest and most serious of Victorians“, in the nineteenth century he had been one of the most popular writers. This study discusses Bulwer’s England and the English which was published in 1833. One year prior to the book’s publication the first parliamentary Reform Act had been passed, marking the beginning of what many historians have described as the ‘Age of Reform‘. Bulwer had considered the early 1830s as an apt point in time not only for an in-depth analysis of this own country and people, but also for suggesting numerous further reforms. This study aims at making Bulwer’s highly perceptive comments more accessible to the modern reader.
It emerges that Bulwer’s analysis of his contemporary England was truly idiosyncratic, but on the other hand much of what he says can also be corroborated from other sources, and accounts of modern historians show that Bulwer was hardly ever off the mark - his analysis of England and the English was not only very discerning but also in advance of this time. In the context of self- and foreign perception, Bulwer’s achievement in England and the English is not a mean one, either. It is shown that Bulwer, the political and social reformer, also established himself as a reformer of stereotypes. In the spirit of the friendship of nations (especially the English and the French), too, Bulwer attempted a (re)construction of English national identity not at the expense of maintaining a hostile Other, but by providing a positive feeling of ‘uplift‘. Comparisons with other countries are mainly employed to provide positive examples.
As to the position of England and the English within the tradition of the ‘Description of England‘, the author demonstrates that the work can be regarded as a new beginning. England and the English can be seen in the satirical tradition, exemplified by the fictional travel accounts by Goldsmith and Southey, but it is a new beginning insofar as it combines satirical elements with suggestions for a positive reformulation of national identity.
There remains the problem of Bulwer’s position as the anti-aristocratic aristocrat and how at times rather radical ideas were propounded by a man who in later life became an outspoken representative of conservatism. However, the author hopes that his book will achieve its objective of gaining England and the English the attention it deserves not only among historians and literary scholars, but also in Cultural Studies.
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