“Tales of other times”: Scotland's past and women's future in eighteenth-century British writing
Eighteenth-century British nationalism has been defined as an outward and forward looking imperial movement, captured most famously in James Thomson's "Rule, Britannia!" (1729). In contrast, I argue that the incorporation of Scotland into Great Britain in 1707 gave rise to a rival ontology of national belonging that looks inside the British archipelago and backwards in time, disrupting attempts to create a unified model of British citizenship and a progressive British history. My project links the development of this rival ontology to British feminism and finds Scotland at key moments in feminist literary history. For instance, The Spectator's response to the Scots seer Duncan Campbell shapes Eliza Haywood's creation of a female spy, who troubles the predominantly English and masculine public sphere. In their imitations of James Macpherson's Ossian poems, the Bluestockings adapt the shifting tenses of the Scottish bard's voice to narrate their experience of contemporary Britain. At the end of the century, the Scottish Enlightenment's maps of uneven historical development color the gothic geographies of Ann Radcliffe's novels. Haywood's, the Bluestockings', and Radcliffe's interest in Scotland ties British feminism to the dual affiliations and contradictions engendered by the consolidation of the British Empire. More broadly, this project contributes to recent reevaluations of the Enlightenment canon. The stadial histories developed by Scottish Enlightenment historiographers such as Adam Smith, Lord Kames, and John Millar are important and under-examined precursors to Marxist and post-colonial theories of economic and social history; in my project, they also emerge as key texts for studies of Enlightenment feminism. The Scots literati and English women writers I investigate use the poetry, culture, philosophy, and history of Scotland to convert a unified Great Britain into spatially and temporally uneven parts, and transform the British subject into a being with divided loyalties—a being who applauds British dominance yet is wary of the domestic and personal costs of both England's growing overseas empire and its refashioning of the British archipelago into Great Britain.
British and Irish literature
0593: British and Irish literature