In recent years, particularly since devolution in the UK, there have been many attempts to identify exactly what constitutes Englishness. In this major contribution to debates about English identity, leading theorist Robert Young argues that the recent uncertainty about the nature of the English arises from more than just the challenges of devolution. It is rather the long-term result of the fact that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Englishness was never really about England, its essence or national character, at all. It was rather developed as a form of long-distance nationalism, as an ethnic identity for those who were precisely not English, but rather made up the English diaspora around the world, Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans. Englishness was constructed as a translatable quality or identity that could be taken on or appropriated anywhere - which is why the most English Englishmen have always been Americans.
"Nonetheless, The Idea of English Ethnicity remains an eloquent and powerfully-argued analysis of Victorian ideas of Englishness and race. Perhaps the book's greatest achievement is the extent to which it succeeds, despite the uncertainties and ambiguities surrounding its central thesis, in convincing the reader that the Victorians did indeed lay the foundations for a ?continuing tradition of flexibility and comprehension' that contributed to the subsequent development of ?a tolerant multiracial society' (239)." (Oxford Journal, 1 March 2011)
"In The Idea of English Ethnicity Young is about his best largely because it is focused and his conclusions are uncluttered." (Multiculturalism, October 2010)"For the Brontë reader, the topic of ethnicity remains an intriguing one. [With] Young's suggestion that Englishness is not about race but is a translatable quality, we can identify the sisters as English. ? Young's book gives us another opportunity to consider how English the Brontë sisters really were." (Brontë Studies, November 2009)
"A well-written, superbly readable and ... well structured presentation of the concepts of English ethnicity in the 19th Century. ... A worthwhile starting point." [Translated from German] (Humanities - Sozial- Und Kulturgeschichte, May 2009)
"Robert J. C. Young's The Idea of English Ethnicity has never been more needed. In this compelling, impeccably researched, and eminently readable study, Young demonstrates that the singular and pure concept of English identity whose loss is now so widely reported never really existed in the first place. I cannot remember the last time that I read such a highly original book on what might seem like a relatively well-trammeled topic. Victorian Englishness and racial ideology have been the subject of innumerable studies over the past decades, but none that I can think of have the freshness, innovation, and authority of this book. The Idea of English Ethnicity can and should change the way we think about Englishness and Empire alike. Young's prose is as lucid and coherent as his arguments are innovative. Writing in a manner that is unfortunately all too rare in the academy these days, he announces his thesis early and signposts it frequently, deftly linking the new material to the larger systems of ideas on which the book is premised. The result is a highly intelligent book on an important subject that can be enjoyed by readers both inside and outside of the academy.? (Journal of British Studies, October 2008)
"From the vantage point of cultural studies, Young offers his interpretation of 'English ethnicity.' Young argues that a shift occurred from viewing English people as pure Saxons to Anglo-Saxons of 'mixed' blood, a definition that encompassed English speakers in the colonies and former colonies as well immigrants to England. Recommended." (Choice Reviews, December 2008)
"A contribution to the literature of the continuing English identity crisis." (Times Literary Supplement, October 2008)
"A major contribution to debates about English identity ... shows how potent the idea of Englishness is." (SirReadALot.org)
"Robert Young has written a compelling and thorough textual history of English ethnicity and its discursive relation to the history of racial theory. Comprehensive, carefully considered, and clearly written, this book sets the standard against which any future study of Englishness will be assessed. The bar has been lifted a couple of notches higher."
?David Theo Goldberg, University of California
?What is Englishness?, Robert J.C. Young asks, and in The Idea of English Ethnicity he offers an impressively well-researched and eminently readable answer.?
?Werner Sollors, Harvard University