The Idea of English Ethnicity / Edition 1

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In this major contribution to debates about English identity, leading theorist Robert J.C. Young argues that Englishness was never really about England at all. In the nineteenth century, it was rather developed as a form of long-distance identity for the English diaspora around the world. Young shows how the effects of this continue to reverberate today, nationally and globally.

  • Written by an internationally established theorist, whose work has been translated into 20 languages
  • Shows how potent the idea of Englishness is
  • Helps to explain why the UK continues to act as if it has a ‘special relationship’ to the US
  • Helps to explain why the UK is so successfully multicultural
  • Part of the prestigious Blackwell Manifestos series
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Nonetheless, The Idea of English Ethnicity remains an eloquent andpowerfully-argued analysis of Victorian ideas of Englishness andrace. Perhaps the book's greatest achievement is the extent towhich it succeeds, despite the uncertainties and ambiguitiessurrounding its central thesis, in convincing the reader that theVictorians did indeed lay the foundations for a ‘continuingtradition of flexibility and comprehension' that contributed to thesubsequent development of ‘a tolerant multiracial society'(239)." (Oxford Journal, 1 March 2011)

"For the Brontë reader, the topic of ethnicity remains anintriguing one. [With] Young's suggestion that Englishness is notabout race but is a translatable quality, we can identify thesisters as English. … Young's book gives us anotheropportunity to consider how English the Brontë sisters reallywere." (Brontë Studies, November 2009)

"A well-written, superbly readable and ... well structuredpresentation of the concepts of English ethnicity in the 19thCentury. ... A worthwhile starting point." [Translated from German](Humanities - Sozial- Und Kulturgeschichte, May 2009)

"Robert J. C. Young's The Idea of English Ethnicity hasnever been more needed. In this compelling, impeccably researched,and eminently readable study, Young demonstrates that the singularand pure concept of English identity whose loss is now so widelyreported never really existed in the first place. I cannot rememberthe last time that I read such a highly original book on what mightseem like a relatively well-trammeled topic. Victorian Englishnessand racial ideology have been the subject of innumerable studiesover the past decades, but none that I can think of have thefreshness, innovation, and authority of this book. The Idea ofEnglish Ethnicity can and should change the way we think aboutEnglishness and Empire alike. Young's prose is as lucid andcoherent as his arguments are innovative. Writing in a manner thatis unfortunately all too rare in the academy these days, heannounces his thesis early and signposts it frequently, deftlylinking the new material to the larger systems of ideas on whichthe book is premised. The result is a highly intelligent book on animportant subject that can be enjoyed by readers both inside andoutside of the academy.” (Journal of British Studies,October 2008)

"From the vantage point of cultural studies, Young offers hisinterpretation of 'English ethnicity.' Young argues that a shiftoccurred from viewing English people as pure Saxons to Anglo-Saxonsof 'mixed' blood, a definition that encompassed English speakers inthe colonies and former colonies as well immigrants to England.Recommended." (Choice Reviews, December 2008)

"A contribution to the literature of the continuing Englishidentity crisis." (Times Literary Supplement, October2008)

"A major contribution to debates about English identity ...shows how potent the idea of Englishness is."(

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781405101295
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/4/2008
  • Series: Wiley-Blackwell Manifestos Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert J. C. Young is Julius Silver Professor of English and Comparative Literature at New York University. His previous publications include White Mythologies (1990), Colonial Desire (1995), and Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (2001).

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Exodus.

1. Saxonism.

2. ‘New Theory of Race: Saxon v. Celt’.

3. Moral and Philosophical Anatomy.

4. The Times vs. the Celts.

5. Matthew Arnold’s Critique of‘Englishism’.

6. ‘A Vaster England’: The Anglo-Saxon.

7. ‘England Round the World’.

8. Englishness: England and Nowhere.



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