Dr Daniel G. Williams has written widely on many manifestations of nationalism and ethnicity in Welsh, Irish and American writers. He has also edited works by Raymond Williams, whose thoughts on culture and national identity are frequently referred to here. While focusing quite tightly on his four chosen 'men of letters' between 1865 and 1910, he uses their work to examine particular aspects and functions of culture, both as it was perceived by those of a dominant and those of a minority group in society. Dr Williams follows through the internal conflicts evident in each writer with great cogency and clarity.
He corrects recent lazy stereotyping of Matthew Arnold as a conventional, oppressive Victorian, by showing him both as critical of all levels of English culture and as influential in valuing the Celtic nations' gifts and potential contribution to a higher shared culture. (Although he saw that as 'One great literature English Literature', this was because of the perceived strength of the language as a worldwide entity).
William Dean Howells, the Welsh-American novelist, critic and Dean of American Letters, takes a similar line, desiring American culture to unite its many elements into a common national identity, (anglophone but distinct from English culture) and giving particular status to the realist novel. The imaginative, spontaneous and re-vivifying qualities which Arnold identified in the Celts, Howells found in Afro-Americans and wished them to be contributed to the shared national culture.
However, the very qualities which Arnold valued among the Celts are seen as justifying a separate, self-sufficient culture in the hands of Yeats and his Welsh and Scottish contemporaries at the point when their 'nations' are striving to assert a cultural identity in advance of a political one.
Du Bois, while maintaining the unique cultural and especially the musical contribution of Afro-Americans be recognised and fostered in America, also claims their right to participate in universal high culture, not least as an assertion of their humanity, as he lived through a period of extreme violence against negroes and an erosion of their rights and opportunities. (The consequences of America's years of rejection of their potential hardly needs pointing out, though whether they would have leavened its materialism we shall never know.)
This is a minutely and carefully documented study, showing the author's deep knowledge, not only of the primary texts but also of a wide range of contemporary criticism, but he pursues clear lines of argument in a very readable style. Although he sticks close to his brief, by clarifying the conflicting streams of thought in these Victorian writers, Dr Williams leads his readers to perceive the roots of much contemporary debate on culture multiculturalism and `post-modern' thinking.
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