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Liberal Epic

Liberal Epic: The Victorian Practice of History from Gibbon to Churchill

EDWARD ADAMS
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrhnv
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    Liberal Epic
    Book Description:

    InLiberal Epic,Edward Adams examines the liberal imagination's centuries-long dependence on contradictory, and mutually constitutive, attitudes toward violent domination. Adams centers his ambitious analysis on a series of major epic poems, histories, and historical novels, including Dryden'sAeneid,Pope'sIliad,Gibbon'sDecline and Fall of the Roman Empire,Byron'sDon Juan,Scott'sLife of Napoleon,Napier'sHistory of the War in the Peninsula,Macaulay'sHistory of England,Hardy'sDynasts,and Churchill's military histories-works that rank among the most important publishing events of the past three centuries yet that have seldom received critical attention relative to their importance. In recovering these neglected works and gathering them together as part of a self-conscious literary tradition here defined as liberal epic, Adams provides an archaeology that sheds light on contemporary issues such as the relation of liberalism to war, the tactics for sanitizing heroism, and the appeal of violence to supposedly humane readers.

    Victorian Literature and Culture Series

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3150-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PROLOGUE
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1914, when he was nearly fifty, H. G. Wells still played elaborate war games with

    “toy soldiers,” and even published an instructional treatise,Little Wars(1913), so others could play too. This indulgence represented only a small portion of his fascination with the matter of heroic warfare: “I liked especially to dream that I was a great military dictator like Cromwell, a great republican like George Washington or like Napoleon in his earlier phases. I used to fight battles whenever I went for a walk alone. . . . The citizens of Bromley . . . never [had] a...

  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 19-58)

    My subject is the entwining of two terms or notions,liberalandepic,one associated with progress, humanity, and self-determination and the other with tradition, war, and violent domination. Adorno and Horkheimer, in theirDialectic of Enlightenment(1944), comment cryptically on this paradoxical relation between liberalism and domination: “enlightenment is universally opposed to domination”; “it [enlightenment] was domination itself” (42). The core impulse of Michel Foucault’s philosophical studies is best seen as a meditation on this dilemma of liberal self-determination really being a form of social control. In“Society Must Be Defended”(1997), his most self-conscious reflection on the rise...

  6. ONE THE ETHICAL-AESTHETIC CHALLENGE TO EPIC POPE, GIBBON, AND SCOTT
    (pp. 59-103)

    This chapter will move from the seventeenth-century origins of the liberal critique of war, through the rise of liberal epic and its enabling device, poetic diction, on to its triumph in the works of the leading poet of the eighteenth century, then to its greatest, most popular, and most influential historian. It will conclude with the poet, historian, and novelist central in establishing the preeminence of the novel early in the nineteenth century. In hisIliadpreface, Pope acknowledges the influence of Fénelon’s French modernization and Bossu’s French rules, but gives his highest praise to Dryden for rendering portions of...

  7. TWO ROMANTIC LIBERAL EPIC SOUTHEY, BYRON, AND NAPIER
    (pp. 104-140)

    The Romantics attacked the poetic dictional strategies of eighteenth-century epic as deeply falsifying, which they were partly designed to be, and so extended the Enlightenment project to humanize warfare so as to preclude killing. Godwin read Fénelon as proof that there can be no real liberal war or war hero—only a bloodless benevolence in the former and, as the latter, the writer himself, a direct precursor to the Romantic poet hero. Thus Hunt’s “Captain Pen” replaces “Captain Sword” and remains the last man standing, but his agonistic victory demands no bloodshed. Godwin firmly designated the neoclassical effort to generate...

  8. THREE EPIC HISTORY, THE NOVEL, AND WAR IN THE 1850S THACKERAY, MACAULAY, AND CARLYLE
    (pp. 141-169)

    Ian Duncan advances a sophisticated case for the precise workings of the novel as mid-Victorian Britain’s dominant form, particularly for the logic behind Dickens’s inheritance of the mantle of Scott as the country’s preeminent national author. Dickens succeeded to this enviable role without resorting to the kind of epic historical matters of war, combat, and violence that figured so prominently in Scott’s ascension. The epigraph shows a contemporary articulating the basics of Duncan’s thesis as Dickens “sweep[s] away the prejudices of class and caste”: his powers echo those of a conquering hero out of an epic, but his novelistic action...

  9. FOUR UTILITARIANISM AND THE INTELLECTUAL CRITIQUE OF WAR MILL, CREASY, AND BUCKLE
    (pp. 170-194)

    This chapter will examine the intellectual critique of epic warfare—the one implied by Buckle, who frequently belittled the moral critique emphasized thus far: “If it can be proved that, during the last thousand years, moralists or theologians have pointed out a single evil caused by war, the existence of which was unknown to their predecessors,— if this can be proved, I will abandon the view for which I am contending” (1: 147). Apparently, the work of Grotius and Pufendorf in developing the modern theory of ius in bello did not impress Buckle as a sufficient advance. He never abandoned...

  10. FIVE POPEIAN STRATEGIES IN PRIMITIVE AND MODERN WAR EPIC MORRIS, KINGLAKE, AND HIGH VICTORIAN LIBERAL EPIC
    (pp. 195-219)

    Morris’s longing for the clean and smokeless London of 1400 makes a vivid contrast with Macaulay’s heated admiration for the clean and industrial Belfast of 1850: “Belfast has become one of the greatest and most flourishing seats of industry in the British isles. . . . Belfast is the only large Irish town in which the traveler is not disgusted by the loathsome aspect and odour of long lines of human dens far inferior in comfort and cleanliness . . . [,] huge factories, towering many stories above the chimneys of the houses and resounding with the roar of machinery”...

  11. SIX LIBERAL EPIC BEFORE THE GREAT WAR HARDY, TREVELYAN, TOLSTOY, AND KEYNES
    (pp. 220-252)

    Thomas Hardy Thomas Hardy’s epic-dramaThe Dynasts,published in three parts in 1904, 1906, and 1908, and G. M. Trevelyan’sGaribaldi Trilogy,published similarly in 1907, 1909, and 19 11 , represent the self-conscious acme of the liberal epic tradition—one rooted in the stylistic, narrative, and cultural achievement of Gibbon: “The English aristocracy had not one centre but hundreds, scattered all over the country in ‘gentlemen’s seats’ and provincial towns. . . . Patronage had passed into thousands of other hands—though not yet into the hands of millions. Oxford University had done nothing for Gibbon, and royally had...

  12. SEVEN FROM LIBERAL EPIC TO EPIC LIBERALISM CHURCHILL AND WEDGWOOD
    (pp. 253-282)

    Here in his journal, Macaulay returns with a vengeance to an almost Achillean rage that liberal epics like his own had set themselves to overcome as they pursued the difficult ideal of “war without hate” in the cause of liberty and humanity. Such raw emotions, however, appear only in these late and private confessions. They exhibit the pressure of England’s increasingly assertive imperialism on his earlier high liberalism, but harbor a degree of embarrassment, evident in his need to justify himself even to himself. Churchill’s liberal imperialism goes much further, has little pity, and no shame. In his earliest journalistic...

  13. EPILOGUE THE WARM AND VISIBLE HAND OF LIBERAL EPIC
    (pp. 283-292)

    This study’s focus on the persistence of epic makes it logical to conclude before the cultural change wrought by World War II, the so-called Best War Ever, which reenergized the belief in war as a positive solution and war leaders as powerful agents.¹ Since my argument has demonstrated how effectively epic survived despite the cultural and historical forces arrayed against it in 1688, 1815, 1851 , or 1914– 18, it seems superfluous to continue the argument once 1 939–45 rendered epic’s task so much easier. Nonetheless, beneath this story of the confident revival of epic history in the bright...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 293-306)
  15. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 307-316)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 317-322)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 323-324)