Interrogating rusticism: extrapolitan collisions between rural and urban cultures in nineteenth-century literature

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Interrogating Rusticism utilizes concepts from postcolonial theory and studies in cosmopolitanism to examine the relationship between the country and the city in nineteenth-century Britain. The project considers the way in

Interrogating Rusticism utilizes concepts from postcolonial theory and studies in cosmopolitanism to examine the relationship between the country and the city in nineteenth-century Britain. The project considers the way in which rural people, places, and cultures were depicted in popular literature and introduces two new terms that help inform one’s understanding of rural and urban interaction. “Rusticism” refers to a discourse reminiscent of Orientalism that creates an “us and them” dichotomy through characterizations that essentialize rural experience and cast it as distinct from urban living. “Extrapolitanism” evokes a cultural practice similar to rooted cosmopolitanism that entails traveling back and forth between the country and the city, engaging in both urban and rural cultural practices, and not committing oneself solely to the social and political causes of either the country or the city. Because rusticist stereotypes regarding rural life, such as the notion that rural labourers possess an energy and love for their work but are also uneducated and backward, have persisted into the twenty-first century, studying the more nuanced, less-rusticist aspects of rural life in nineteenth-century Britain is an often overlooked, but still very important, endeavor. Interrogating Rusticism closely examines literature by authors known for imbuing their works with rusticist portrayals of country life, and seeks to illuminate how, in addition to perpetuating rusticist discourse, those authors also cultivate an extrapolitan type of mindset when they do depict more nuanced aspects of rural life.

Each chapter follows a similar methodological approach that involves looking at a specific rusticist notion, the binary distinctions that help construct it, the historical background that contributed to its rise, a critically overlooked work that informed the writing process of a commonly studied piece, and how the commonly studied piece challenges the rusticist notion by revealing that the binary distinctions actually inform one another. Chapter 1 focuses on the rusticist idea that rural communities are pastoral, pre-modern sites untouched by the effects of modernity, the repeal of the Corn Laws, which eventually led to rampant poverty in the countryside, George Eliot’s travel memoir “Recollections of Ilfracombe” (1856) that chronicles her visit to a rural, sea-side community, and her first novel, Adam Bede (1859). Chapter 2 turns to the comparison that was often made between rural workers and nonhuman animals, the negative connotations it carried, which became even more pronounced following the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins’s dramatized account of their 1857 walking tour of rural England, The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices, and Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (1864-65). The final chapter examines the expectation for male rural workers to be hearty, highly masculine figures, which was emphasized by both the use of the derogatory term Hodge to refer to rural workers and the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1884, Richard Jefferies’s post-apocalyptic novel After London (1885), and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895). Interrogating Rusticism helps elucidate often overlooked aspects of rural life in nineteenth-century Britain that can and should inform rural and urban interaction today as long-held stereotypes regarding rural life still persist and the world becomes increasingly more urban.