Gypsies and the British Imagination, 1807-1930, is the first book to explore fully the British obsession with Gypsies throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Deborah Epstein Nord traces various representations of Gypsies in the works of such well-known British authors John Clare, Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, George Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle, and D. H. Lawrence. Nord also exhumes lesser-known literary, ethnographic, and historical texts, exploring the fascinating histories of nomadic writer George Borrow, the Gypsy Lore Society, Dora Yates, and other rarely examined figures and institutions.
Gypsies were both idealized and reviled by Victorian and early-twentieth-century Britons. Associated with primitive desires, lawlessness, cunning, and sexual excess, Gypsies were also objects of antiquarian, literary, and anthropological interest. As Nord demonstrates, British writers and artists drew on Gypsy characters and plots to redefine and reconstruct cultural and racial difference, national and personal identity, and the individual's relationship to social and sexual orthodoxies. Gypsies were long associated with pastoral conventions and, in the nineteenth century, came to stand in for the ancient British past. Using myths of switched babies, Gypsy kidnappings, and the Gypsies' murky origins, authors projected onto Gypsies their own desires to escape convention and their anxieties about the ambiguities of identity. The literary representations that Nord examines have their roots in the interplay between the notion of Gypsies as a separate, often despised race and the psychic or aesthetic desire to dissolve the boundary between English and Gypsy worlds. By the beginning of the twentieth century, she argues, romantic identification with Gypsies had hardened into caricature-a phenomenon reflected in D. H. Lawrence's The Virgin and the Gipsy-and thoroughly obscured the reality of Gypsy life and history.
"A sophisticated, subtle, and highly erudite analysis." — Panikos Panayi, Victorian Studies
"Extensive descriptive passages... Nuanced and perceptive glimpses into the texts and into the lives, character, nature, and motives of the writers themselves." — Journal of British Studies
"A welcome addition to Romani and literary studies." — Marianne Zwicker, H-Ideas
"Gypsies and the British Imagination, 1807-1930 is a highly cogent and persuasive account of an important and largely neglected topic in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literary and cultural studies. Nord adds fresh insights into canonical authors such as Wordsworth, Scott, Arnold, and Eliot, and perhaps most usefully, brings into sharp view important but often neglected figures (George Borrow) and institutions (the Gypsy Lore Society). The readings of primary texts are unusually nuanced and complex, and Britain's reactions to the Gypsies, along with questions of gender and of race in general, are handled with tact, sensitivity, and rare intelligence." — Michael Ragussis, Georgetown University, author of Figures of Conversion: ?The Jewish Question? & English National Identity
"Deborah Nord's work will add considerably to our knowledge and interpretation of the 'other' within British culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Gypsies and the British Imagination is finely written and manages to do what all the best writing of this kind should—it simultaneously sends one back to familiar texts with fresh understanding, and relates them to some important wider questions." — Kate Flint, Rutgers University, author of The Victorians and the Visual Imagination
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Children of Hagar
1. "A Mingled Race": Walter Scott's Gypsies
2. Vagrant and Poet: The Gypsy and the "Strange Disease of Modern Life"
3. In the Beginning Was the Word: George Borrow's Romany Picaresque
4. "Marks of Race": The Impossible Gypsy in George Eliot
5. "The Last Romance": Scholarship and Nostalgia in the Gypsy Lore Society
6. The Phantom Gypsy: Invisibility, Writing, and History