Romantic peripheries: the national subject and the colonial bildungsroman in Edgeworth, Scott, Child and Hogg
My dissertation analyzes the hybrid status of writers from what I call the “Romantic periphery”: Ireland, Scotland, and America. By including all three of these regions in my argument, I challenge both the chronology and the geography of the Romantic project to allow for a broader understanding of the Romantic novel. I argue that the forms and concerns of Romanticism enable authors from non-metropolitan regions of the British Empire to reshape received notions of national identity. Using the trope of Romantic subjectivity as it manifests in a form I term the “colonial Bildungsroman,” these authors transform traditional coming-of-age stories into tales in which the protagonists, rather than maturing primarily on a psychological or emotional level, must come of age politically by making choices about their national identity. In doing so, these protagonists model the transition to political maturity that Edgeworth, Scott, Hogg, and Child believe their respective nations must undergo as well. In identifying these authors as inhabitants of the Romantic periphery, I argue that their status as hybrid citizens—citizens whose national affiliations the British Empire has attempted to subsume—prompts these authors to shape national identities that can accommodate hybridity by successfully holding disparate traditions in equilibrium. I contend that these authors use the colonial Bildungsroman to assert difference in an imperial social structure that seeks to eradicate it, while simultaneously remaining viable participants in the literary and cultural lives of that empire. Edgeworth, Scott, Child, and Hogg, rather than relying exclusively on the historically mimetic version of “bardic nationalism” identified by Katie Trumpener, produce a nationalism informed by Whiggish ideas of historical progress as well as by regional traditions. Romantic themes and questions shape these authors’ responses to their hybrid cultures, but the work of these “peripheral” writers also helps to shape our understanding of the Romantic notion of the self as historically constituted and delineated.