My exchanges with Jen over the late-18th novel, romantic or otherwise, have reminded me of how problematic a term like “nationalism” really is when we discuss most writers in the long eighteenth. Nationalism, like Empire, seems like a word with a teleology built right into it, and which consequently makes it hard to read contingent events as anything BUT movements toward some nineteenth-century destination. But is this really true?
For one thing, patriotism is even harder for us to understand than some so-called “rise of the nation,” because of patriotism’s associations with radicalism and Wilkite agitation in the mid-century. But clearly one of the stakes in the 1790s was about which conception of the nation, and of the people, either radical or conservative, would win out over the other. To the participants in those debates, the outcome hardly felt preordained.
So what kinds of primary texts, genres, and authors, and what kinds of scholarly arguments do you draw upon when you try to think about the nation in the long eighteenth?