Narrating National Selves : the Construction of an English National Character Through the French Other in Post-Napoleonic England

This thesis closely examines discourses in Post-Napoleonic England, exploring stereotypes directed against the French Other to shape an English national identity in direct opposition. While Francophobic stereotypes have historical roots in the 18th century and beyond, they intensify after the Napoleonic Wars, portraying the French as vain and immoral, posing a threat to corrupt England's youth, as France is perceived to be a kind of cultural capital of Europe. This is notably evident in travel discourse, which positions itself in the tradition to the Grand Tour to the contient, where English individuals encounter the French on their home soil, with Paris serving as a primary destination. These texts project all stereotypes onto the city, depicting it as a filthy and decadent place, showcasing French vanity in its splendid buildings and moral corruption in its dirty, miserable streets. By the same token, London is implicitly constructed as the exact opposite of the French capital, displaying the virtues of the English people, especially those of moderation and morality. Through this setup, the city becomes part of the extended body of the nation, serving as an actual part of the national character rather than just as a setting for the texts.


Specifically, four long-forgotten novels from that era are analysed to reveal the narrative structures they employ in constructing an English identity. Six Weeks in Paris, written by William Jerdan in 1817, The Englishman in Paris, anonymously published in 1819, Six Weeks at Long’s by Eaton Stannard Barret and printed in 1817, and John Bull’s Bible, published under the pseudonym of Demodocus Poplicola in 1817 all participate in forming a narrative identity grounded in the creation of stereotypical English characters who are juxtaposed against French characters. In this they embody aspects of the English nation itself, with their stories serving to tell a story about the nation rather than just individual characters. This trend culminates in the character of John Bull, the iconic representation of the English nation. In the new context of Post-Napoleonic England, the John Bull tradition is appropriated to embody the English nation as a whole, as it faces the ongoing threat posed by France both from without and from within. As national identity is never a fixed concept but an ongoing project which is continuously constructed in a nation‘s discourse, this thesis hopes to shed some more light on discursive and narrative strategies that are often used to make that abstract concept tangible, coherent and relatable.


Citation style:
Could not load citation form.


Use and reproduction:
All rights reserved