Consolidation of Imperialism

Question: Discuss how “The Rise of English” relates to the growth and consolidation of imperialism? Or, Consolidation of Imperialism Terry Eagleton


The development of English as a field of serious scholarly inquiry was due to several reasons. In his essay “The Rise of English” Terry Eagleton has shown how the growth and consolidation of imperialism were simultaneous with the development of English literature and language in England from the 18th century onwards.

English and militant nationalism

Eagleton suggests that the English needed to ‘masculinize’ because British capital power was losing ground to the Germans and the Americans. So, there was a need for the national mission and identity. The English poets were then most perfect for increasing the national tradition and identity which would become rallying points and marketing techniques for the troops. For this, during the Victorian age, Civil Service exams began to test on English literature to exhilarate the imperial mind and to leverage English culture as a jingoistic tool. Thus, the study of English literature ascended through a combination of nationalism and spiritual searching amid the English ruling class.

Ideological crisis and capitalism

Historically the nineteenth century was a period of revolution. In America and France, the old colonialists of feudalist regimes were overthrown by the revolution of the middle classes, while England was getting its economic development because of the enormous profits from the eighteenth-century slave trade and its imperial control of the overseas. Thus, England became the worlds’ first industrial capitalist nation. But the visionary hopes and the revolutionary thoughts of Romantic poetry were in contradiction with the harsh realities of the new bourgeois regimes that is why the romantic poets represent the common people in their writings. So, we can say that if there was no feudalism, capitalism, or imperialism, there would be no growth of English literature.

Odds with the capitalists

Searching for ‘felt experience, personal response or imaginative uniqueness’ in literature is a modern preoccupation, inherited from the Romantics and the 19th century. Around the turn of the 18th century, literature becomes limited to creative, imaginative works, and poetry represents human creativity, at odds with capitalist, industrial utilitarianism. Similarly, ‘prosaic’ acquires negative connotations during the Romantic period because of partial presentation of the upper class.

“a distinction between fictional and factual writing was long established, and ‘poetry’ traditionally associated with the former; but seeing ‘imaginative’ as a positive attribution – think of words like ‘visionary’ or ‘inventive’ – that was something new to this time.”

Thus, English literature gets its new innovative way by the expert hands of the romantic poets.

Literature as an alternative ideology

There were some advocating for the study of English as a replacement for religion and a panacea against national sickness ‘to save the souls and heal the State.’ Religion is increasingly unable to provide cohesion and identity to this class-society; English is supplied as an alternative.

“The diminution of religious ideological control troubled the élite, since religion is effective for control.”

Even in such circumstances, the creative imagination of the Romantics was nothing but lazy escapism. At that time literary work was seen as transparently spontaneous and creative than no longer a technical method because of its significant social, political, and philosophical implications. Literature turned into a completely alternative ideology, and imagination became a political force by the powerful hands of Blake and Shelley. The poets’ task was to transform society in the name of ideological values.

English as a university policy

In Eagleton’s view literature gradually assumed the shape of an ideology to replace religion, which had no longer a stronghold on the masses owing to a university discipline. Eagleton found the beginning of this development as parallel to the gradual admission of women to the institution of higher education. Since English literature was by then inseparable from its softening, moralizing, effects, it assumed an effeminate look and was thought very suitable for the growing number of women in the universities to study. Thus, English’s effects are understood as feminine and it is no surprise that its rise coincides with the rise of female admission to higher education institutions. Besides, the British includes English in the syllabus of their overseas territories to establish the idea that they are the finest moral nations.


“The Rise of the English” is an outstanding essay that examines how the concept of literature developed, how its studies have begun academically and how literary criticism in English has evolved. He discloses the capitalist motive behind using English as an academic discipline in British colonies.

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SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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