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Patterns of Nationalist Discourse in the Early Reception of the Icelandic Sagas in Britain

SPRAY, THOMAS,EDWARD (2019) Patterns of Nationalist Discourse in the Early Reception of the Icelandic Sagas in Britain. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The unprecedented production of English translations of the Icelandic sagas in the 1860s occurred alongside widespread cultural discussion concerning ethnic-nationalism and the developing science of comparative philology. Although the relationship between these phenomena has been examined, there has been no scholarly consensus on the reality, extent, or direction of any influence between them.
This thesis reports on the seminal texts which gave context to and informed the late-nineteenth-century translations of Old Norse Íslendingasögur into English, their cultural stimuli and progeny. Firstly, the thesis examines the influence of and contextual philosophies behind J. A. Blackwell’s revised edition of Northern Antiquities, and in particular its depiction of Old Norse literature as key to understanding British ancestry. The thesis then considers the impact of Blackwell’s inclusion of Walter Scott’s Eyrbyggja saga ‘Abstract’, and the extent to which this partial translation characterised subsequent attitudes to nationality. Finally, the thesis examines the wide nationalist implications of the European interest in Friðþjófs saga, and the nature of the scholarship of George Stephens, its first English translator.
The results of this study demonstrate that far from following a simplistic model of cause and effect, one needs to view the development of the reception of Old Norse literature as being intricately bound with contemporary political and national interests. Previous studies have often emphasised the unconventionality of the pioneering translators; this study underlines both their reliance on wider academic discussion and the wide-spread acceptability of their ideas within Georgian and early-Victorian Britain. The study complements previous research in providing a detailed assessment of ethnic-nationalist discourse within British Old Norse scholarship and eschewing the common view that the discussion was merely a product of foreign philosophy.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Icelandic Sagas, Old Norse, Translation, Nationalism
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2019
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:26 Feb 2019 10:45

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