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The question of 'Englishness'

What constituted ‘Englishness’ in the late 19th century, and what are the most fundamental differences with ‘Englishness’ today?
Sociology Essay

  • Assessment: Sociology Essay
  • Mark: A
  • Year: 2007
  • Wordcount: 3201

Debates over what it means to be English have taken place throughout English history. Being English today differs from being English in the late 19th century because “the ideas that informed the dominant conceptions of what was involved in ‘being English’ changed over the period” (Giles and Middleton 1995: 6). This essay aims to isolate the most significant differences between 19th and 20th century notions of ‘Englishness’. Since ‘Englishness’ has to be seen in close relation with class and gender, I will focus on the impact of the changes within these two areas in the first part of the essay. In the second part of the argument I will specifically analyse the ways in which ‘Englishness’ is rooted in 19th century Imperialism and will draw attention to the effects of the collapse of the Empire on today’s notions of ‘Englishness’. My argument will be supported by several cultural examples from 19th and 20th century literature. Literature can be seen as a “signifier of national identity and heritage” (During 2006: 138) and as such the used literary examples provide evidence that cultural representations of ‘Englishness’ draw from a generally constant stock of adapted and reworked images, ideas and beliefs.

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