Introduction: (DIS)Establishing the Empire of English

  • Alok Yadav


Is it possible to approach the history of English literature without taking for granted its status as a great tradition? What issues and dynamics would become evident if we recognized the claim to metropolitan cultural standing as an ambition on the part of English-language writers throughout the early modern period, rather than as an achieved fact? How would our perspective on eighteenth-century English-language literary culture change if we took seriously Shaftesbury’s contention that the “British Muses” were “yet in their mere Infant-State”?1 J. P Kenyon chastizes G. M. Trevelyan’s very popular English Social History (1942) for “its chauvinistic assumption that England had always been great,”?2 and a similar though even more deeply rooted assumption has formed the bedrock of most work on English literature: namely, the assumption that it has forrned a great tradition since the days of Shakespeare. But if we are interested in gaining a truly postimperial perspective on modern English-language literary culture, we will need to rethink this tendency to begin with the metropolitan status of English-language literary culture as a given, and will need to analyze instead the process through which this status was achieved.


Eighteenth Century British Isle Literary Culture Early Modern Period East India Company 
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© Alok Yadav 2004

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  • Alok Yadav

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