'In Some Respects Peculiar': Representations of Citizenship in the British and Anglophone Novel
Type of DegreeDissertation
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This dissertation analyzes representations of citizenship in five British novels that were written over a period of 260 years. Read together, these novels chart the ways in which citizenship has been coveted, accepted, adapted, and rejected by different groups of people over time. As Lord Goldsmith recently acknowledged in his report on citizenship in Britain, the concept has been understood in many different ways in the country and over the centuries, but what his analysis fails to confront is the extent to which the designation has been racist, sexist, and classist since its earliest inception. This fact has had serious consequences for the British nation-state. Certainly citizenship is consequential. The language used to discuss it in the West insistently foregrounds this fact, suggesting, as it does, liberation and justice. To talk about it, one must evoke matters as important as the rule of law, due process, equal protection, emancipation, freedom, privilege, and rights. Yet the rhetoric of liberation disguises an unsettling reality; citizenship is a category of identity that carries with it certain disciplinary structures. It is not merely a politically descriptive condition; it is a conceit specific to a particular ascendancy. The juxtaposition of the liberatory and the disciplinary aspects of citizenship indicate what a very complicated category of identity it is. The complicated nature of citizenship is the focus of this dissertation. In it, I trace the development of the concept of citizenship in five British novels that cover a time-span of nearly three centuries in order to illustrate the creation of what might be called the post-imperial subject. Each novel that I analyze reveals a different facet of a new form of political identity. Naturally, given their temporal distance, the novels are stylistically quite different from one another. Yet, in spite of their differences, they each describe the citizen in the process of becoming. My analysis of these texts illustrates the various gestures of a new form of political subjectivity, one with roots that reach back to the Enlightenment, but that rejects the ideal citizen posited by that model. The post-imperial subject foregrounds personal affiliative ties over national ones and indicates the liberatory potential of citizenship that is divorced from the symbolic work that the concept of citizenship has traditionally performed for the nation-state.