John M. Adrian, Local Negotiations of English Nationhood, 1570-1680. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 238pp. ISBN 978 0 333 71472 0.
Patrick J. Murray
University of Glasgow
Patrick J. Murray, "Review of John M. Adrian, Local Negotiations of English Nationhood, 1570-1680". EMLS 16.1 (2012): 6. http://purl.org/emls/16-1/revadria.htm
- The focus of Local Negotiations of English Nationhood, 157-1680 is, as the title suggests, localism in early modern England. John M. Adrian’s aim is to challenge the critical view that “associates the Tudor age with the birth of the nation” (2) with a more nuanced analysis that acknowledges the significance in the period of localised variation and heterogeneity of language, history and culture. For such a slim volume (only just over one hundred and eighty pages) this project appears overly ambitious. However, Adrian’s study is both enlightening and thought provoking.
- Local Negotiations begins by setting out the orthodoxy which it seeks to challenge, highlighting Richard Helgerson’s Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (1992) and its “argu[ment] that the generation of English in the late sixteenth century ‘engendered … a national cultural formation’” (2). Since this “seminal” text, a number of critical approaches to early modern English culture have emerged, all of which centre on the macrocosmic nation. Some critics, Adrian observes, have “been eager to demonstrate how the new English nation was ‘imagined’ by writers like Sidney, Spenser, Drayton, Camden, Hakluyt, Coke, Shakespeare and Jonson”. Others have “sought to isolate and examine particular factors that promoted the emergence of nationhood, like maps, historiography, biblical rhetoric, language standardization, the Protestant calendar, and even the wool cloth industry”. Others still “have begun to further complicate constructions of nationhood by looking at how it was affected by the growth of empire and the question of Britishness” (2).
- Against this critical backdrop, the author highlights “the vitality of early modern local consciousness” (3) in late-sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. “Even in the age of emerging nationhood,” Adrian writes
English men and women were still profoundly influenced by – and even drew their primary identity from – the parish, the town, and the county. […] Far from functioning merely as a retreat from nationhood, local consciousness emerges as a dynamic site of negotiation where broader changes are interrogated, modified, and adapted to the needs of smaller communities. (3)
A key signifier of the emergence of “local consciousness” was the rising number of “geographical works” in the period. Such texts, according to Adrian, “focus[sed] on or [were] organised around geographical units” (11) and increased almost twenty-two fold between the 1520s and the 1590s (12). Of particular note was the flourishing literary genre of chorography, whose intention is exemplified by the title of one of the earliest of such poems by William Lambarde’s The perambulation of Kent containing the description, history and customs of that county (1570).
- Chorographies, however, represent just one of the many literary genres Adrian uses to corroborate his thesis. If the author’s focus is upon the local, his critical purview is ambitiously, and commendably broad. Local Negotiations examines a wide number and variety of texts, from epic lyrics to country house poems to prose memoirs. Authors range from the royalist biographer and travel writer Izaak Walton to the Puritan memoirist Lucy Hutchinson. Adrian’s analysis also encompasses a diversity of literary themes, from the overt religiosity of George Herbert to the heroic mythologies of Michael Drayton. The selection of such a wide range of sources is clearly geared towards emphasising the cross-cultural and cross-religious prominence of “local consciousness” in early modern English culture. A second, subsidiary effect of this approach – and one of the best attributes of Adrian’s study – is that it highlights the wide variety of different strategies of engagement with such an idea. Although Herbert and Lambarde, for example, both engage with local places and environments, they do so in different and equally intriguing ways. As Adrian notes, “the local and the national are not always mutually exclusive. In fact, they frequently interact in complex ways, and at times the local can even be a way of mediating nationhood on the county, city, and parish level” (36-37).
- The first textual study focusses on The Perambulation of Kent. According to Adrian, Lambarde’s “local consciousness” is demonstrated by two key strategies – uniformity and particularization. The first of these is identified as a response to the growing Tudor attempts at consolidation and centralization of monarchical power in the sixteenth century. A Kentish landowner and county administrator, Lambarde presents a “vision of uniformity and regularity” in his description of Kent, thereby “provid[ing] political and religious stability and effectively guard[ing] against rebellion” (63). Adrian substantiates his claim by first highlighting Lambarde’s consistent approach to the description of the variety of places within the county – giving the place name, exploring its etymology, then providing a brief chronology of the place’s history (58). Secondly, he emphasises the systematic standardisation of geographical features such as agricultural lands, ecclesiastical dioceses and rivers (60). Thus, through a “pre-determined method” the chorographer “uses narrative and topographical divisions to make generalizations about the land” (63). Lambarde’s “particularization” meanwhile, centres upon the diversity of the county of Kent and its populace. Small details such as an underground stream in Maidstone, or the taste of Folkestone’s oysters are described. Furthermore, Lambarde “devotes 13 pages to the history of Kent as a whole, and around 400 pages to the histories of the individual places within Kent” (66). Thus,”the particular is valued and even treasured” (65). Rather than “fragmenting” Kent and Kentish identity into “a collection of its diverse topographical and human features” (66) the chorography’s particularization, Adrian argues convincingly, shows that Lambarde “allows for differentiation and distinctiveness and even disagreement so long as they do not erupt into any kind of disorderly threat” (69).
- Adrian’s focus in the next chapter shifts to the writings Michael Drayton. Here, the author discusses the poet’s “conception of heroic literature” (74) and his historical themes, rightfully noting that, “Although Drayton is well known for his varied poetic output, English history is his most pervasive subject” (75). Thus, in early works such as The Legend of Piers Gaveston (1593) the poet describes in detail the places where legends are set, thereby highlighting the “local consciousness” of mythology and the employment of English geography as a “receptacle of […] heroic virtue” (83). After discussing this in relation to Drayton’s aversion to the “lunatique age” of the Jacobean court, Adrian moves onto the poet’s most famous work, the much-analysed Poly-Olbion (1612). Whilst acknowledging the merit of readings of the epic which describe it as “nationalistic and patriotic” (94), Adrian, his eye trained firmly on the local, highlights the variation in the poem’s voice, and its “revel[ling] in the diverse topography, history, and culture […] in various parts of the island” (94). Poly-Olbion, enthuses Adrian,“finds valor, passion, and nobility in every forest, stream, and vale” (95).
- The subsequent study of Herbert and “Caroline Religious Uniformity” analyses the writer’s prose work The Country Parson (c. 1632) in the context of “national religious controversies of appropriate forms of worship” (96) and emerging religious movements such as Laudianism. Here, Adrian shows how Herbert “invest[s] in the local parish” (96), and emphasises the importance of the localised contingency in the actions of the parson when faced by wider attempts at national level to impose uniformity of worship, religious observance and clerical behaviour. The Country Parson observes Adrian, contains an “almost constant emphasis on the importance of meeting local congregations on their own ground” (116).
- The discussions of Izaak Walton and Lucy Hutchinson’s responses to the strife of the Civil War, meanwhile, reveal other strategies in the early modern negotiation between local and national, particularly in periods of countrywide crisis. Walton’s most famous text The Compleat Angler (1653), for example,“localizes retreat in a particular setting that is crucial in both articulating a set of values and rendering them attainable for a specific Royalist audience” (121). The pointedly localized fishing tips (when, with what and where one can catch a specific type of fish) contained in the The Compleat Angler combine with Walton’s locational specificity and authenticity of environment, and indeed the oft-observed “heterogeneity” of the text, to emphasise “contingency and hybridity”. These methodologies, Adrian asserts, would have had particular resonance with Walton’s Royalist audience – “In contrast to the monolithic thought patterns and endless disputes that marked the Civil War and Interregnum periods, Piscator [the central protagonist of The Compleat Angler] offers a series of discrete situations that can be comprehended and acted on exactly”(132). Similarly in Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (1671) the biography of her husband John Hutchinson, the radical Puritan parliamentary governor of Nottingham in the Civil War, Lucy Hutchinson “firmly identifies the local sphere as her husband’s chief area of concern” (137). Despite coming from opposite sides of the Civil War, the texts of Walton and Hutchinson “thrive in the local sphere because it allows for an exactness that goes beyond polarizing and monolithic ideologies” (153).
- Concluding Local Negotiations is an analysis of the country house poem. Succinctly characterised by William A. McClung as “stand[ing] near the head of a tradition of praise of the decorum and plenitude of the English manorial state” (1), this genre attracted poets like George Whitney, Aemilia Lanyer, Ben Jonson and Mildmay Fane. According to Adrian, such lyrics “link their subject estates to their surrounding region” (157). In doing so, they echo the local consciousness of Walton by “anchor[ing] the genre in the reality of time and space and keep it from succumbing to pastoral escapism” (158). Appended to this chapter is an interesting discussion of the genre’s treatment of the global expansion of English imperial interests through the increasingly frequent descriptions of foreign goods and luxuries within the country house lyric.
- Adrian’s volume provides an important analysis of literary representations of the relationship between the macrocosmic national and the microcosmic local in early modern England. Impressive in its scope and cogent in its argumentation, Local Negotiations foregrounds the centrality of localism and local consciousness in the literature of a period more often characterised by its national and international tumults than by the subtlety of regional variations.
- McClung, William A. The Country House in Renaissance Poetry. Berkeley: U of California P, 1977.
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