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PhD defence Ernest de Clerck

Date of news: 20 October 2021

On 15 October Ernest de Clerck (KU Leuven) successfully defended his doctoral thesis. The project was supervised by Tom Toremans (KU Leuven) and Frederik Van Dam (Radboud University).

Ernest De Clerck (1993) was working on a PhD project on ‘The Reception and Translation of Foreign Literatures in British Romantic Periodicals’.  What follows is the summary of his dissertation:

The British Romantic period is often – and rightfully so – associated with the genesis of nationalism in its modern form, consolidating the national identities and traditions as we now know them. However, what is often overlooked is the enormous importance of cross-cultural exchange in this process. This dissertation presents the results of research into the reception and translation of foreign cultures in four of the major Romantic literary magazines that dominated the cultural debate in Britain following the Battle of Waterloo: the New Monthly Magazine (est.1814), Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (est. 1817), the London Magazine (est.1820), and the Liberal (est. 1822).

In these four magazines one encounters an important presence of cultural transfer which contradicts any idea of an insular British (often called ‘English’) literary field. This cultural transfer takes the form of translations of prose, drama, or poetry, travel writing, essays on foreign national literary traditions, reviews of books in Continental languages, and fictional orientalist imaginings. This dissertation analyses these different modes of reception of foreign literatures and cultures and illustrates how these artefacts functioned as commercial, as much as ideological, assets in the British Romantic literary marketplace. This means that, on top of being good for sales, the mediation of foreign cultures helped the formulation and consolidation of British national of European transnational identities.

This insight forces us to complicate received ideas of a stable, original, and ‘pure’ British national literature. That idea is partly a construction raised from early nineteenth-century periodical discourse. This dissertation thus ends with a call for a transnational approach to the study of literature in which all the different instances of cultural exchange, which are the conditio sine qua non of literature, are accounted for. Not as marginal phenomena, but as the condition which makes literature’s existence all possible.