Peter Ackroyd and the Borders of Englishness
Sammanfattning: Since the dissolution of the British Empire, anxiety about the loss of Englishness has circulated at various sites of public discourse in Britain: politics, the media, education, culture and literature. This study investigates the configuration and representation of Englishness in Peter Ackroyd’s writing as exemplary of this anxiety. I explore how a melancholic nostalgia for a lost horizon of Englishness even pervades writing that displays a seemingly versatile and multifarious Englishness. I argue that Ackroyd’s writing of the 1990s and the 2000s casts Englishness as a defensive border against changes brought about by multiculturalism. Drawing on key ideas from postcolonial, feminist and queer theory, I interrogate the ways in which the borders of Ackroyd’s Englishness operate in a selection of his texts. These borders are, at once, geographical, political, racial, cultural and gendered limits that intersect to create a distinctly normative and homogeneous notion of Englishness. Across Ackroyd’s body of work there is a sense in which both textual play in its varied forms and his own notion of Englishness embrace variety and difference. Nevertheless, I argue that Ackroyd’s writing upholds anxieties about the loss of Englishness through subtle, and even covert, devices and structures of exclusion. While appearing to promote a versatile and inclusive understanding of Englishness, Ackroyd’s writing comes to reiterate a distinctly raced, gendered and imperial version of Englishness. In my analysis, Ackroyd’s writing is itself a melancholic act of forgetting England’s imperial past and, as such, naturalises a myth of Englishness that is built on uncritical reiteration of past notions of cultural worth. Englishness, English culture and the notion of canon are revitalised and at the same time de-politicised by Ackroyd in ways that, I argue, reflect broader patterns of nostalgia for imperial England at the turn of the century.
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