Cosmopolitanism and National Identity: English-Language Poetry, 1820-1920
Hoffmann, Natalie Phillips
Rudy, Jason R
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Through readings of English-language poems produced in Britain, Italy, India, and South Africa, my dissertation argues that poetry functions as an especially powerful tool for resisting and reshaping nineteenth-century nationalist and imperialist discourses. In the project, I examine the various poetic strategies--particularly the use of affect to promote cross-cultural sympathy and the blending of Eastern and Western forms--that transnational, English-language poets used to interrogate dominant understandings of nationality. Poets studied include Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, Toru Dutt, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sarojini Naidu, and Rudyard Kipling. I contend that a school of English-language poets--men and women from diverse backgrounds working in Europe and the colonies--together played a special role in nineteenth-century culture by presenting to their global readership a cosmopolitan alternative to traditional nationalist narratives. Key to English-language poets' ability to offer such a radical reimagining of nationality was their ability to subvert, both through form and content, the imagined divisions among people upon which nationalist narratives rely. I understand environments rife with nationalist fervor--the Risorgimento period in Italy, the ascendency of Indian nationalism, and the Boer War years in South Africa--as locations of parallel experience for these poets. I read their work as foregrounding in important ways the increasingly global nature of the lived experiences and intellectual projects of nineteenth-century elites in both Eastern and Western cultures. By structuring the dissertation as a comparative reading of poetic challenges to dominant nationalist narratives occurring simultaneously in Europe and the colonies, my work participates in a scholarly conversation that reimagines as multidirectional the forces that shaped Indo-Anglian and other colonial relationships. My dissertation joins ongoing efforts to recuperate the voices of English-language poets in India, to better attend to the oft-marginalized political poetry of canonical British poets, and to pay equitable critical attention to the contributions of women poets. It also reinforces recent critical challenges to nationalist canonization practices by imagining a multinational school of poets that together articulate a more cosmopolitan understanding of national identity. The project aims to be of interest to scholars working in poetry, nineteenth-century Anglophone literature, postcolonial literature, and women's studies.