Culture Wars in British Literature: Multiculturalism and National Identity

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As Americans, we think of many things when we hear the words United Kingdom: the queen, tea, football, Dickens. But we do not usually think of cultural tensions as prevalent as, and deeper-seated than, our own. Tracy J. Prince offers a compelling argument as to why we should.

Britain is composed of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Of these, England is the one with the most troubling past as an imperialist power, and it is England on which Prince focuses in her first chapter. Here she discusses the dramatic changes English people have experienced due to the drastic shrinking of the empire over the past century. This discussion of identity politics is fascinating, and the level of scholarship continues as Prince details the region’s history of immigration, gender, and class politics.

The chapter that was of the most interest to me was the one in which Prince explains the difficulties with defining British literature (and British-ness). In America, anyone who lives here, was born here, or self-identifies as an American is considered an American. Reading personal accounts of this not being the case in Britain, I was shocked by the sheer number of definitions of British, many of which are frighteningly exclusive.

All told, this book is near flawless. The chapter organization is clear and useful. However, the organization of information within chapters could be clearer. Prince occasionally moves around in time (causing confusion) and switches from a larger discussion of movements to lists of related authors (interesting, but probably better suited to an appendix).

Despite these minor issues, this book is an incredible source of information. Using literature as a starting point, Prince delves into an entire country’s history with many forms of discrimination. She does an exceptional job detailing each of these histories and explaining how they affect Britain today. Whether you are actively studying British literature or are just interested in how another country deals with (and continues to justify) racism, classism, sexism, and anti-Semitism, you will find lots of useful, surprising, and relevant information in Culture Wars in British Literature. I highly recommend this book to everyone even remotely interested in cultural expression and exclusion.


Reviewed By:

Author Tracy J. Prince, with a foreword by Thomas C. Caramagno
Star Count 4/5
Format Trade
Page Count 232 pages
Publisher McFarland
Publish Date 07-Sep-2012
ISBN 9780786462940
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue October 2013
Category History
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