Comparative Literature in Britain: National Identities, Transnational Dynamics, 1800-2000

The discipline of Comparative Literature, with its application of a transnational perspective to literature as a multinational historical praxis, is gaining fresh interest in today's globalizing, post-colonial world. It emerged in the nineteenth century as a countermovement to the increasingly national-philological scope of literary studies. The chequered history of its emergence and acceptance in the British Isles throws a fascinating light on literary, critical and scholarly mentalities of the last two centuries. In this book, Leerssen and Shaffer approach the discipline's history in Britain as a problem in intellectual history, situated in a variety of contexts and cross-currents. The meaning of'literature' itself has been in flux, as was the British academic system which has valued it very differently at different times. Cultural transfers from Continental scholarship, and champions such as Matthew Arnold, gave comparative approaches increasing prestige. British comparatism became an established academic discipline after the Second World War. Shaped by an imperial preoccupation with ethnicity rather than nationality, by the cultural politics of the 'Four Nations' of the British Isles, and by the enduring tradition of reviewing and criticism, it has since then been both challenged and enriched by structuralism, post-structuralist theory, and the decline of Eurocentrism.