Ancestry and Narrative in Nineteenth-century British Literature: Blood Relations from Edgeworth to Hardy

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This 1999 study addresses the question of why ideas of ancestry and kinship were so important in nineteenth-century society, and particularly in the Victorian novel. Through readings of a range of literary texts, Sophie Gilmartin explores questions fundamental to the national and racial identity of Victorian Britons: what makes people believe that they are part of a certain region, race or nation? Is this sense of belonging based on superstitious beliefs, invented traditions, or fictions created to gain a sense of unity or community? As Britain extended her empire over foreign nations and races, questions of blood relations, of assimilation and difference, and of national and racial definition came to the fore. Gilmartin's study shows how the ideas of ancestry and kinship, and the narratives inspired by or invented around them, were of profound significance in the construction of Victorian identity.