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"Where are the originals?" : Britishness and problems of authenticity in post-union literature from Addison to Macpherson

Kersey, Melvin Eugene (2001) "Where are the originals?" : Britishness and problems of authenticity in post-union literature from Addison to Macpherson. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the relationship between the formation of British national identity and textual authenticity in the eighteenth century, focusing on literary practices of myth-making and nation-building by a range of authors from Joseph Addison to James Macpherson. Exploring a variety of 'authentic' as well as 'fabricated' sources, the thesis traces the origins of Britishness to authors as diverse as King Alfred, Tacitus and Julius Caesar. The question 'Where are the originals?', which Samuel Johnson levelled at the problematic Ossianic poetry of James Macpherson, serves as an organising principle throughout the thesis. Chapter One outlines an illustrative set of perspectives on the sources of post-Union identity in Great Britain, addressing the tensions between mythical originals and the premise of authenticity by authors including Geoffrey of Monmouth, Samuel Johnson, Joseph Addison, Martin Martin and Daniel Defoe. Chapter Two examines Addison's association of the ballad Chevy-Chase with the epic tradition, forming a critical context for reading the problematic ballad Hardyknute as a product of British nation-building. Chapter Three concentrates on Thomas Warton's miscellany entitled The Union, mapping the intermixture of poetry, oratory and the political tension between old and new British identities during the 1750s. In Chapter Four, William Blackstone's The Great Charter and Charter of the Forest provides a post-Union context for revisiting both the originals of the Magna Carta and Gilbert Burnet's 'authentication' of the ancient constitution. In Chapter Five, the effects of the Penal Laws and the subsequent demise of professional bards in Ireland set the stage for a transformation of Irish bardic tradition in Micheal Coimin's Lay of Oisin in the Land of Youth. Finally, Chapter Six brings these various problems of authentic originals, fabrication and identity to bear on the work of James Macpherson. Concentrating primarily on his pre-Ossianic poetry, this final chapter examines the development of Macpherson's literary and political affiliations, aiming to shed some light on the 'originals' which preceded his Ossianic poetry. Tracing the language of British nationhood from the fragmentary to the epic, my argument concludes with Macpherson, situating him within an Addisonian tradition of myth-making and a Bolingbrokean tradition of nation-building. Whether in his Dictionary of the English Language or in the Ossian controversy, Johnson's insistence upon pure originals signifies his English resistance to the mixed identity of Britishness. But it remains to be seen whether Johnson's own work, or indeed culture itself, can sustain the weight of his question, 'Where are the originals?'

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.590573
Depositing User: Ethos Import
Date Deposited: 11 Nov 2014 11:03
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2014 11:03
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/6768

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