British Identity and the Antirevolutionary Novel: Nineteenth-Century British Novels about the French Revolution
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Between Edmund Burke’s 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France and Charles Dickens’s 1859 A Tale of Two Cities, a cluster of antirevolutionary British works depicting the French Revolution that bridges periodisation divisions and often challenges the conventionally recognised political affiliations of the authors in question appeared. Recent work in recovering neglected Romantic and Victorian-era texts about the French Revolution has typically focused on radical and liberal works or the literary output of the 1790s, while disregarding the long-term antirevolutionary tradition my dissertation examines. I analyse canonical and well-known texts such as Burke’s Reflections, Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution (1837) and Dickens’s Tale with understudied and sometimes utterly neglected antirevolutionary novels, including Elizabeth Hamilton’s Memoirs of Modern Philosophers (1800), Frances Burney’s The Wanderer (1814), Anthony Trollope’s La Vendée (1850) and Charlotte M. Yonge’s Dynevor Terrace (1857), in order to reconstruct the political and representational contests surrounding the French Revolution that occurred across seventy years of British literature. My work reveals that by representing the Revolution as inherently and unavoidably violent, the antirevolutionary writers in this study take up their own violent positions against it. These writers are primarily concerned with the French Revolution’s impact on British communities and identities, and construct their own versions of Britishness in the context of, and usually in opposition to, revolutionary violence and the French revolutionary state. These texts all politicise the family and the domestic community as models or microcosms of the broader national community, although they do so in diverse ways: Burney and Trollope turn to the political family romance to test out versions of the state modelled on patriarchy, fraternity or the heterosexual marriage contract. By contrast, Burke, Dickens and Yonge use middle-class domestic ideology to promote a national community rooted in private, social affections. However, as the home comes under threat by revolutionary violence in all of these works, each writer commits some kind of representational violence against revolutionary symbols, ideals and narratives. My analysis of these texts as a group demonstrates that the French Revolution was also a British event, generating decades of antirevolutionary reaction, histrionic paranoia and literary strategies for containing French and British radicalism.