This book gives an ambitious revisionist account of the nineteenth-century British vel and its role in the complex historical process that ultimately gave rise to modern anthropology's concept of culture and its accredited researcher, the Participant Observer. Buzard reads the great nineteenth-century vels of Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and others as metropolitan autoethgraphies that began to exercise and test the ethgraphic imagination decades in advance of formal modern ethgraphy--and that did so while focusing on Western European rather than on distant Oriental subjects. Disorienting Fiction shows how English Victorian vels appropriated and anglicized an autoethgraphic mode of fiction developed early in the nineteenth century by the Irish authors of the National Tale and, most influentially, by Walter Scott.Buzard demonstrates that whereas the fiction of these n-English British subjects devoted itself to describing and defending (but also inventing) the cultural automy of peripheral regions, the English vels that followed them worked to imagine limited and mappable versions of English or British culture in reaction against the potential evacuation of cultural distinctiveness threatened by Britain's own commercial and imperial expansion. These latter vels attempted to forestall the self-incurred liabilities of a nation whose unprecedented reach and power tempted it to universalize and export its own customs, to treat them as simply equivalent to a globally applicable civilization. For many Victorian velists, a nation facing the prospect of being able to go and to exercise its influence just about anywhere in the world also faced the danger of turning itself into a cultural where. The complex autoethgraphic work of nineteenth-century British vels was thus a labor to disorient or de-globalize British national imaginings, and velists mobilized and freighted with new significance some basic elements of prose narrative in their efforts to write British culture into being.Sure to provoke debate, this book offers a commanding reassessment of a major moment in the history of British literature.
James Buzard teaches Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the author of The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to Culture, 1800-1918, as well as of numerous essays on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British literature and culture. He is also coeditor of a forthcoming collection of essays entitled Victorian Prism: Refractions of the Crystal Palace.