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Mary Waters, review: April London, Literary History Writing, 1770–1820 | Eighteenth-Century Studies (2011)
Project MUSE -- downloaded pdf to Note -- London rejects the widely held notion that literary history writing was relatively homogenous in form and that literary historians have concerned themselves primarily with constructing a transcendent literary canon. Rather, she argues that, originating in opposition to such hegemonic efforts as Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, early instances of literary history take an array of forms, including biography, autobiography, memoir, antiquarianism, bibliography, specimens, anecdotes, and “secret history” (5). This variety accommodated a diverse readership much broader than the traditional reading audiences among the learned classes while allowing literary historians to embed into discussions of Britain’s literary past implicit or even overt stances on the nation’s political culture...... The book’s entire third section, “Isaac D’Israeli and Literary History,” reads D’Israeli’s forty-year literary career as engaging questions of historiographic method and text reception from a vantage point of progressive political disillusionment. Its two chapters show that D’Israeli’s emphasis on opinion and anecdotal material undermines classical historiographic methods and brings questions about evidence and the grounds of knowledge into the construction of literary history. Initially espousing a belief that intellectual change precedes social change, D’Israeli reveals in his late career greater consciousness of limits on the remediating power of literary history and a solemn prognosis for the future reputations of socially marginalized writers like him.
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september 2013 by dunnettreader

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