The Historical Journal



REVIEW ARTICLE

SHALL WE TAKE THE LINGUISTIC TURN? BRITISH RADICALISM IN THE ERA OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION


WILLIAM STAFFORD a1
a1 UNIVERSITY OF HUDDERSFIELD

Abstract

Intertextual war: Edmund Burke and the French Revolution in the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, and James Mackintosh. By Steven Blakemore. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1997. Pp. 256. ISBN 0-8386-3751-5. £32.

Radical expression: political language, ritual, and symbol in England, 1790–1850. By James Epstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Pp. xi+233. ISBN 0-19-506550-6. £30.

Tom Paine: a political life. By John Keane. London: Bloomsbury, 1996. Pp. xxii+644. ISBN 0-7475-2543-9. £8.99.

Gothic images of race in nineteenth-century Britain. By H. L. Malchow. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996. Pp. xii+335. ISBN 0-8047-2664-7. £35 (hb). ISBN 0-8047-2793-7. £12.95 (pb).

Popular contention in Great Britain, 1758–1834. By Charles Tilly. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Pp. xvii+476. ISBN 0-674-68980-1. £31.50.

Radical culture: discourse, resistance and surveillance, 1790–1820. By David Worrall. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992. Pp. ix+236. ISBN 0-7450-0960-3. £40.

Most of these books are influenced by current philosophical or methodological concerns which might be labelled, according to taste, as poststructuralism, postmodernism, or the linguistic turn; but they are influenced to very varying degrees. At one end of the spectrum stands Tilly's substantial study, essentially modernist, rejecting the latest fashions. At the other stand the books by Blakemore and Malchow, their colours firmly nailed to the mast of deconstruction. Blakemore teaches in a department of English, and although Malchow's institutional affiliation is as an historian, his book is a hermeneutic of literary texts. The great majority of ‘postmodern’ analyses of texts from this period have come from the stable of literary studies, perhaps especially from scholars concerned, as Malchow is, with the construction of gender, that great growth area of the present time. None of these books subscribes in practice to a postmodern relativism, declaring itself to be merely a construction or representation of the past: all arrive at some kind of closure, explicitly or implicitly asserting the truth of their interpretations. Historians concerned to justify their subject to funding bodies may judge this to be prudent; nevertheless a greater degree of reflexivity, of self-doubt, would have been welcome in some instances, as we shall see.