It is Albion herself, not King James, who is seated in the center holding the emblems of sovereignty; her male conquerors stand to the side, and their smaller size and their number suggest something unstable in monarchy and patriarchy. Albion's robe with its multiplicity of regional features, as well as the "Poly" of the title, suggests forces pulling against national unity. Also, Poly-Olbion had no successors: instead of a celebration of the nation in the vein of Spenser's Faerie Queene or Poly-Olbion itself, the great seventeenth-century heroic poem, Paradise Lost, treats the Fall of Man and its tragic consequences, "all our woe.
The first topic here, "Gender, Family, Household: Seventeenth-Century Norms and Controversies," provides important religious, legal, and domestic advice texts through which to explore cultural assumptions about gender roles and the patriarchal family. It also invites attention to how those assumptions are modified or challenged in the practices of actual families and households; in tracts on transgressive subjects cross-dressing, women speaking in church, divorce ; in women's texts asserting women's worth, talents, and rights; and especially in the upheavals of the English Revolution.
Literature and Religious Culture in Seventeenth-Century England by Reid Barbour
The protagonists here are not martial heroes but a domestic couple who must, both before and after their Fall, deal with questions hotly contested in the seventeenth century but also perennial: how to build a good marital relationship; how to think about science, astronomy, and the nature of things; what constitutes tyranny, servitude, and liberty; what history teaches; how to meet the daily challenges of love, work, education, change, temptation, and deceptive rhetoric; how to reconcile free will and divine providence; and how to understand and respond to God's ways.
At the very least such factors shape, though they do not determine, popular cultures. They receive only the most casual attention in this book. Authors work to word limits, and those word limits impose choices. Reay has chosen to focus on those aspects of popular culture on which recent scholarship has been most lively, and the synthesis he has made of it is rich and stimulating. It is as much the scholarship on which he draws as his own use of it which prompts my critique. At the most fundamental level, in its relative neglect of context, it is in danger of dehistoricising the past. There is an irony here.
Reay ends forcefully, noting how efforts to embody some history into contemporary cultural studies have an extremely foreshortened view of history, one which certainly does not stretch back to the early modern centuries. I am glad that the reviewer found much to recommend in Popular Cultures. Let me start by saying that I find these criticisms useful, and plead - How should I put this?
- Early Modern Intellectual Life: Humanism, Religion and Science in Seventeenth Century England;
- How Not To Get Published!
First, the dreaded postmodernism. It seems that Cunningham is somewhat contradictory here; and I am more than a little puzzled by his attitude given the nature of his own recent work on the history of representations of childhood.
This aside, he has a point. But it is an unsurprising one. Historians continually rewrite the past in their own image - as I was at pains to stress in the last chapter of Popular Cultures. In my defence, I should also point out that there is no reason that elements of postmodern culture should not have existed in the early modern period. One is continually struck by an early modern sense of fragmentation and multiplicity of meanings and usages, of a cultural playfulness normally associated with postmodernity.
To ignore these elements would be to neglect many of the avenues opened by recent scholarship. I could also argue that I did not merely impose current cultural theory on an insensible past: the chapter on sexuality is a critique of the very fracturing that Cunningham accuses me of. Yet postmodernism is just part of the issue at stake here.
Despite some limitations, it seemed to me to be an extremely helpful way of looking at early modern culture. Others, including Chartier himself, have applied this tool to aspects of culture or popular culture, but as far as I am aware mine is its first application to the cultural history of a whole nation. The second criticism is that I have slighted some of the icons of British social history. In response to this suggestion, I should point out that in Popular Cultures I was arguing not just with Burke, Thomas, and Thompson - but with myself.
This book was dedicated to Keith Thomas and Edward Thompson, contained chapters by several students of the former, and a contribution from Peter Burke, so it seems a little unfair of Cunningham to say that I have minimised the importance of their work. Third, Cunningham raises the issue of the local. I do not fully understand what he means here.
As the review mentioned, I wrote Popular Cultures after I had been engaged in a detailed microhistory of three nineteenth-century Kent communities. One of the appeals of writing the history of a nation across three centuries was indeed the opportunity to write the broad sweep; I relished the contrast between it and my previous focus on the context of the local. Joanna Walsh. Mikhail Bulgakov.
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