To Enlist or Not, for the Empire: The Citizens of the British Isles and Stories of War from the Four Kingdoms 1798-1853

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To Enlist or Not, for the Empire: The Citizens of the British Isles and Stories of War from the Four Kingdoms 1798-1853

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I examine the British military activities to reconsider how people of the British Isles formulated concepts of citizenship and nationhood during the earlier half of the nineteenth century. Arguing that literary history of British Romanticism should give stronger recognition to Britain’s internal and external colonies, I investigate how Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott, and Charles Dickens incorporate dissenting voices in their fiction to problematize the British Empire’s nation-building process driven by militarism. I aim to offer a postcolonial, feminist, and ecocritical interpretation of the canonical British writers against the conventional narrative of literary history that reads mass mobilization during anti-French military conflicts as a nation-forming experience. My first chapter on Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) examines Fanny Price’s desire to participate in the British imperial project. Because overseas military activity is inaccessible for women, Fanny’s admiration for her brother’s naval accomplishment is mixed with envy and suspicion about the foreign elements that British officers may bring back to England. I suspect that Austen projects her own relationship to her brothers to that between Fanny and William. Austen supports the Royal Navy as a loving sister, yet she withholds a wholehearted consent to British imperial activities as an English gentlewoman. Austen’s admiration for Captain Charles Pasley’s Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1811) suggests her own frustrated aspirations. My second chapter investigates Edgeworth’s colonial antimilitarism revealed in her Irish national tale, The Absentee (1812) and her story for children, “The Prussian Vase” (1801). As an Anglo-Irish woman writer, Edgeworth negotiated clashing demands of gender, class, and national/ethnic loyalties during the French Revolution, the 1798 Irish Rebellion, and the Napoleonic Wars. When Anglo-Irish aristocrat Colambre pushes away Pasley’s Essay to read the family genealogy of Grace Nugent, this gesture translates as Edgeworth’s own repudiation of Britain’s colonial expansionism. A truly responsible Anglo-Irish gentleman prioritizes Ireland’s domestic prosperity over British imperial military conflicts. Edgeworth’s children’s tale “The Prussian Vase” (1801) provides an earlier example of her antimilitarism in ambiguous treatment of the young Polish count in the Prussian court, whom I view as Colambre’s (negative) prototype. My third chapter on Guy Mannering (1815) reassesses the traditional militaristic evaluation of the historical novel of Sir Walter Scott’s brand. I reevaluate Scott focusing on his colonial consciousness. The hybridity of Julia Mannering, an English girl born and raised in India, undergirds my reading. The novel’s soldier-artists and the imperial cultural artifacts they produce are scrutinized under the critical eyes of the Colonel’s daughter. On the other hand, the Scottish-born, Dutch-bred soldier Harry Bertram debunks the military participation’s empty promise of equal status with England for Scottish or other non-English British subjects. My final chapter examines William Cobbett’s Rural Rides (1830) and Dickens’ Bleak House (1853) to consider how nineteenth-century British press journalism and the realist novel challenge British imperialism and its military. Deeply influenced by Cobbett’s radicalism and antimilitarism, Dickens condemns the ruling class that, preoccupied with affairs overseas, neglect the domestic affairs. Dickens associates the military with qualities detrimental to personal and national prosperity. Britain’s future depends on the middle-class domesticity personified by Esther Summerson and her physician husband Allan Woodcourt. Focusing on the characters returning to Britain such as Mrs. Bagnet, I explore how Dickens redefines femininity and masculinity to offer a renewed vision of domestic and national duty.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2020. Major: English. Advisor: Andrew Elfenbein. 1 computer file (PDF); 211 pages.

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Sol, Yon Ji. (2020). To Enlist or Not, for the Empire: The Citizens of the British Isles and Stories of War from the Four Kingdoms 1798-1853. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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