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Title: Calliope unbound : culture and the idea of epic from the eighteenth century to the present
Author: Taylor, Jonathan
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis contributes to a vein of scholarship that has begun to challenge the assumption that the ubiquitous extra-literary use of ‘epic’ in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has severed the word from its original literary meaning and rendered it meaningless. While it does not deny that epic now frequently connotes little more than size, length or grandeur, this study also demonstrates that, in the greater number of cases, epic has been appropriated in order to associate new referents with ideas or qualities that were considered characteristic of the epic poem in the early modern period, such as fable, compositional unity, sublimity, genius and encyclopaedism. Part philological study, part cultural history, it traces epic’s origins as an extra-literary term to the eighteenth century, and explores how eighteenth-century phenomena, including the loosening of prescriptive criteria for literary genres and the emergence of mock-epic, precipitated a variety of different meanings and extra-literary uses of epic to flourish. Using examples sourced from a range of digital resources now available to map cultural discourse across this period, including Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, British Periodicals, Britain’s parliamentary Hansard and the United States Congressional Record, it illuminates the persistence of these meanings and uses of epic in cultural contexts as diverse as visual art, political propaganda, extreme sport, environmental conservation and software design, and, in the process, recovers the idea of epic as an important and understudied influence upon Anglo-American culture from 1700 to the present. Furthermore, the study reveals not only that extra-literary use of epic has consistently been motivated by the desire to invoke the ideas and ideals that (re)shaped definitions of the epic during the eighteenth century, but that such deployments of epic have also, with remarkable frequency, continued to perform the cultural functions of the epic poem: championing a particular culture and determining and shaping its history.
Supervisor: Johns-Putra, Adeline Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral