Romance, narrative vision, and elect community in seventeenth-century England
Jones, Emily Griffiths
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My dissertation examines the intersections of romance, religion, and politics in England between 1588 and 1688, reading across the divide between centuries to enable a fuller understanding of romance during the English Civil War and its aftermath. In the decades that witnessed Charles I's fall and his son's restoration, royalists and republicans alike found solace, and grounds for resistance, in romance's formal promise that suffering and disappointment would yield to the restoration of a story's true champions. Although historicist efforts to contextualize seventeenth-century romance have productively complicated the structuralist view of it as a basic archetype, such studies are fraught with their own simplifications: romance is often depicted as a continental trend briefly embraced by midcentury royalists, especially women. While a few scholars have noted the artificiality of some of these limits, we have yet to come to terms with seventeenth-century romance's long English tradition, its ability to penetrate other genres, and its hold over male and female writers and readers of diverse ideologies. To this end, my project traces two interwoven threads. First, I argue that the potent subjectivity offered by romance correlated with the widespread Protestant belief in divine election, inviting seventeenth-century subjects to locate themselves and their allies within a providentially protected community. Far from being a royalist fad, romance became a battleground between royalists and Puritan republicans: both sides denigrated their enemies' manipulation of the genre while tacitly or openly reclaiming it for themselves. Second, I consider how writers of romance contended with recurring problems of form, genre, and gender: due to the length of romantic plot and the related issue of multiple subjectivities, they found innovative ways to represent the friction between providential romance and national or personal tragedy, as well as the tension between gendered narrative perspectives. As England struggled to recuperate from its civil conflicts, writers also turned to romance not merely to represent elect community, but to reconstruct it, thinking critically about whether the genre might breach and repair the very perspectival divides in politics, religion, gender, and identity that it had been so instrumental in maintaining.