Navigating between two worlds : how portrayals of the Americas in eighteenth-century novels influenced the British identity.

Date
2011-08
Authors
Mills, Jennifer Aimee.
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Worldwide access.
Access changed 1/14/14.
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Abstract

In the early English novel British emigrants to the Americas occupied an ambivalent position within the empire; changed by the transatlantic ocean voyage and daily life in the colonies, colonists were distanced spatially and pragmatically from their fellow subjects who remained in England. Eighteenth-century novels often explore the implications to British society when characters migrate from Britain to the American colonies, are changed by their experiences and interactions there, and then return to England. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, The Female American published anonymously, and Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett each depict main characters who amalgamate traits in the Americas that the British had demarcated as separate and opposite, yet they always maintain a self-identity of a British citizen. Moll Flanders, Eliza Winkfield, and Obadiah Lismahago challenge and refine the construct of the British identity.
The eponymous Moll Flanders becomes isolated from society as a result of the influence of the Americas on her life from before birth, making her a detached observer unable to fully integrate into English society. Moll learns in the Americas to create new identities for herself that enable her to prey upon society and avoid being known by anyone, including herself. The titular Female American is separated from both English and Native American society because of her dual heritage in both. She stands apart from each culture, able to judge both and to adopt the best features of each. Rejecting the British colonial practices as inherently destructive, Eliza forms a different model for the ideal civilization, though this involves withdrawing to a small society isolated from the rest of the world. Obadiah Lismahago, by contrast, attempts to rejoin British society, but the American taint has reduced his ability to operate in the civilized world. Though at first the other characters exclude him because of these oddities, his marginalization is partially mitigated—though never erased—by his marriage into the Bramble family. However, his union with the family marks them as now unlike their English compatriots and more American by the gifts he bestows upon them and the continuing influence his interactions with them will have.

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Keywords
British literature., 18th century., Americas., British identity.
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