Against All Englandexamines a diverse set of poems, plays, and chronicles produced in Cheshire and its vicinity from the 1190s to the 1650s that collectively argue for the localization of British literary history. These works, including very early monastic writing emanating from St. Werburgh’s Abbey, the Chester Whitsun plays, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, seventeenth-century ceremonials, and various Stanley romances, share in the creation and revision of England’s cultural tradition, demonstrating a vested interest in the intersection of landscape, language, and politics. Barrett’s book grounds itself in Cestrian evidence in order to offer scholars a new, dynamic model of cultural topography, one that acknowledges the complex interlacing of regional and national identities within the longue durée extending from the post-Conquest period to the Restoration.
Covering nearly five centuries of literary production within a single geographical location, the book challenges still dominant chronologies of literary history that emphasize cultural rupture and view the “Renaissance” as a sharp break from England’s medieval past.
“Robert W. Barrett, Jr., makes a number of contributions to our understanding of medieval and early modern English culture. He joins other scholars like David Wallace, James Simpson, and Sarah Beckwith in seeking to understand medieval culture less as a distinct unit than as a series of texts, issues, and rhetorical moves that continue well into the early modern period and, indeed, nourish it. . . . Barrett’s study is timely and will be received with great interest.” —Lynn Staley, Harrington and Shirley Drake Professor of the Humanities and Medieval & Renaissance Studies, Colgate University
“Rob Barrett’s study of pre- and early modern Cheshire makes a welcome contribution to the literary and historical rethinking of the medieval/Renaissance divide. Against All England presents a compelling argument for the crucial place of regional cultures in the increasingly prominent scholarly narrative of an emergent English nation. This lively and learned book deserves a broad readership across disciplinary and historical borders.” —Theresa Coletti, University of Maryland
“No matter how well one knows such works as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or the Chester Whitsun plays, Barrett's Against All England will offer intellectually rewarding surprises. It exemplifies how asking new questions leads to new insights, in this case questions framed by regional rather than traditional generic, period, linguistic, or religious categories. Embedded in an impressively thick description of local knowledges, Barrett's analyses of the longue durée of Cheshire writing through five centuries serve as salutary reminders that an imagined community need not be national and that provincial cities and their regions may develop a unique literary heritage too often masked by canonical emphases on London and the nation in even the most theoretically savvy literary histories.” —Richard K. Emmerson, Florida State University