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Sounding Imperial

, 232 pages

17 b&w illus.

April 2013



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Sounding Imperial

Poetic Voice and the Politics of Empire, 1730–1820

Open Access Edition Available at Project MUSE

In Sounding Imperial, James Mulholland offers a new assessment of the origins, evolution, and importance of poetic voice in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By examining a series of literary experiments in which authors imitated oral voices and impersonated foreign speakers, Mulholland uncovers an innovative global aesthetics of poetic voice that arose as authors invented new ways of crafting textual voices and appealing to readers. As poets drew on cultural forms from around Great Britain and across the globe, impersonating "primitive" speakers and reviving ancient oral performances (or fictionalizing them in verse), they invigorated English poetry.

Mulholland situates these experiments with oral voices and foreign speakers within the wider context of British nationalism at home and colonial expansion overseas. Sounding Imperial traces this global aesthetic by reading texts from canonical authors like Thomas Gray, James Macpherson, and Felicia Hemans together with lesser-known writers, like Welsh antiquarians, Anglo-Indian poets of colonialism, and impersonators of Pacific islanders. The frenetic borrowing, movement, and adaptation of verse of this time offers a powerful analytic by which scholars can understand anew poetry’s role in the formation of national culture and the exercise of colonial power.

Sounding Imperial offers a more nuanced sense of poetry’s unseen role in larger historical processes, emphasizing not just appropriation or collusion but the murky middle range in which most British authors operated during their colonial encounters and the voices that they used to make those cross-cultural encounters seem vivid and alive.

James Mulholland is an assistant professor of English at North Carolina State University.

"Mulholland's superbly composed book reanimates eighteenth-century visions of poetic practices 'elsewhere' and details their shaping role in British poetics. His account of the remaking of oral or folk traditions within the conventions of poetry links poetic voice to the cultural exigencies of empire in remarkably inventive ways; this book will reenergize the study of eighteenth-century British poetry."

"Discovering poetry that is 'barbaric, vast, and wild,' James Mulholland corrects the massive prose bias evident in postcolonial studies of the British Empire. Sounding Imperial compellingly explains how poetic archaism, lyrical inauthenticity, and ethnic impersonation inflect the strange and distant voices that reconsolidate the national via the bardic and the oriental."

"James Mulholland's Sounding Imperial is an impressive contribution, recovering in the eighteenth-century 'fantasy of unmediated voices' a tradition of experimental poetry. Mulholland persuasively articulates an emergent global poetics; his meditations on print, the performed voice, impersonation, and transnational poetics help to redraw the cultural map. Incisive and elegant."

"This is an excellent book, and one that will appeal not just to lovers of poetry but to historians of the Empire and sociologists who study trans-national influences."

"Sounding Imperial is a very readable book. It will be mainly of interest to students and scholars of English literature and history."

"James Mulholland has produced an important new study of eighteenth-century British poetry..."

"James Mulholland's Sounding Imperial: Poetic Voice and the Politics of Empire, 1730–1820 brings the context of British imperialism to Romantic-era poetics, illuminating the concerns of orientalism within the history of print culture."

"What Sounding Imperial tells us about colonialism and culture is that we need to look again at their relationship with fresh eyes."

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