Enlightened fictions and the romantic nation: aesthetics of improvement in long-eighteenth-century Scottish writing

McKeever, Gerard Lee (2014) Enlightened fictions and the romantic nation: aesthetics of improvement in long-eighteenth-century Scottish writing. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis participates in the current scholarly reassessment of Scottish Romanticism. Working across conventional Enlightenment and Romantic paradigms, it argues for a ‘long eighteenth century’ view of this writing with salient roots in the Union of 1707. Framed by the rapid economic and social change experienced by Scotland over much of this period, it proposes that Scottish Romanticism is best understood as a modal series of material that engages in various ways with ideas of ‘improvement’, the Enlightenment’s ubiquitous doctrine of progress. This engagement is significantly translated through a negotiation of alternative national identity structures available to Scots at the time: Britishness and forms of Scottishness. As these formations become implicated in a pervasive ‘dialectics of improvement’, Scottish writing develops a series of innovative aesthetic strategies that probe the complex political function of literature. Coordinated around a hegemonic Britishness that is laying claim to the priorities of improvement, forms of Scottishness are repeatedly pushed into alternative roles, including the model of the ‘romantic nation’. Chapters address many of the key Scottish writers of the period as well as some of their less well-known contemporaries, using local case studies as a means to connect and focus the study’s broader concerns. In Chapter One a sequence of fundamentals pertaining to the analysis of Scottish culture is addressed, exploring issues of nation, identity, class and institutional context, alongside the complementary evolution of aesthetic ideologies and cultural nationalisms. Chapter Two turns to Robert Burns as a prime mediator between cultural formations, his sophisticated poetry and self-presentations positioned as crucial to the developing relationship between Scottishness and improvement, while he innovatively heralds future, aesthetic constructions of nationhood. Moving into the early nineteenth century, Chapter Three traces the full emergence of ‘aesthetic nationalism’, primarily in the novels of Walter Scott. Always a contested process, such tension is magnified via the work of James Hogg, before the effects of a pervasive irony in this literary formation are examined. In Chapter Four the improvement problematic in long-eighteenth-century Scotland is further developed, John Galt’s fiction offering extensive reflections, with an ancillary focus on Elizabeth Hamilton shedding light on some key ideological dilemmas and the important role of gender within this trajectory. Finally, a thematic coda uses a reading of Thomas Carlyle to reflect on these aesthetic components of a profound experience of modernisation, their subsequent mediation and continuing relevance.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: English Literature, Scottish Literature, Romanticism, Scottish Romanticism, Scottish Enlightenment, Improvement, Aesthetics, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, James Hogg, John Galt, Elizabeth Hamilton, Thomas Carlyle
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
Supervisor's Name: Benchimol, Dr Alex and Leask, Prof Nigel
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Mr Gerard McKeever
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5768
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2015 12:07
Last Modified: 01 Dec 2017 08:47
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/5768

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