Disorienting Fiction: The Autoethnographic Work of Nineteenth-Century British Novels

Princeton University Press
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This book gives an ambitious revisionist account of the nineteenth-century British novel and its role in the complex historical process that ultimately gave rise to modern anthropology's concept of culture and its accredited researcher, the Participant Observer. Buzard reads the great nineteenth-century novels of Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and others as "metropolitan autoethnographies" that began to exercise and test the ethnographic imagination decades in advance of formal modern ethnography--and that did so while focusing on Western European rather than on distant Oriental subjects.

Disorienting Fiction shows how English Victorian novels appropriated and anglicized an autoethnographic mode of fiction developed early in the nineteenth century by the Irish authors of the National Tale and, most influentially, by Walter Scott. Buzard demonstrates that whereas the fiction of these non-English British subjects devoted itself to describing and defending (but also inventing) the cultural autonomy of peripheral regions, the English novels that followed them worked to imagine limited and mappable versions of English or British culture in reaction against the potential evacuation of cultural distinctiveness threatened by Britain's own commercial and imperial expansion. These latter novels attempted to forestall the self-incurred liabilities of a nation whose unprecedented reach and power tempted it to universalize and export its own customs, to treat them as simply equivalent to a globally applicable civilization. For many Victorian novelists, a nation facing the prospect of being able to go and to exercise its influence just about anywhere in the world also faced the danger of turning itself into a cultural nowhere. The complex autoethnographic work of nineteenth-century British novels was thus a labor to disorient or de-globalize British national imaginings, and novelists mobilized and freighted with new significance some basic elements of prose narrative in their efforts to write British culture into being.

Sure to provoke debate, this book offers a commanding reassessment of a major moment in the history of British literature.

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About the author

James Buzard teaches Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the author of The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to "Culture," 1800-1918, as well as of numerous essays on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British literature and culture. He is also coeditor of a forthcoming collection of essays entitled Victorian Prism: Refractions of the Crystal Palace.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jan 10, 2009
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9781400826674
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Literary Criticism / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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James Shapiro
For more than two hundred years after William Shakespeare's death, no one doubted that he had written his plays. Since then, however, dozens of candidates have been proposed for the authorship of what is generally agreed to be the finest body of work by a writer in the English language. In this remarkable book, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro explains when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays. Among the doubters have been such writers and thinkers as Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Mark Twain, and Helen Keller. It is a fascinating story, replete with forgeries, deception, false claimants, ciphers and codes, conspiracy theories—and a stunning failure to grasp the power of the imagination.

As Contested Will makes clear, much more than proper attribution of Shakespeare’s plays is at stake in this authorship controversy. Underlying the arguments over whether Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays are fundamental questions about literary genius, specifically about the relationship of life and art. Are the plays (and poems) of Shakespeare a sort of hidden autobiography? Do Hamlet, Macbeth, and the other great plays somehow reveal who wrote them?

Shapiro is the first Shakespeare scholar to examine the authorship controversy and its history in this way, explaining what it means, why it matters, and how it has persisted despite abundant evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays attributed to him. This is a brilliant historical investigation that will delight anyone interested in Shakespeare and the literary imagination.
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