Rewriting the North: Place, Nation, and the Cultural Politics of Devolution

Ashbridge, Chloe (2021) Rewriting the North: Place, Nation, and the Cultural Politics of Devolution. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Between the 1997 devolutionary moment and the 2016 Brexit-vote, the Union’s continuity has become increasingly uncertain. In England, the fraught relationship between the North and the South East of England has been at the centre of debates regarding devolution, with the ‘English Question’ taking on an explicitly regional dimension. At the same time, British devolution developed a distinctively cultural registration, functioning on the one hand as a surrogate for national parliamentary representation; and, on the other, regional decentralisation, an attempt to disrupt the status of London as Britain’s cultural epicentre. Rewriting the North extends this debate by appraising the relationship between British constitutional culture and the literary North. To do so, this thesis advances two interlinked arguments. First, that Northern England has functioned in the national imagination less as a geographical territory than as a culturally loaded spatial metaphor for a nexus of socio-economic and constitutional tensions throughout Britain. Second, that this construction of the North has been augmented by a persistent cultural North-South divide, which has served as a bulwark of the Union in securing the continued suppression of a national England.

Drawing on political arguments advanced by the New Left, and contemporary literary interventions in this field, Rewriting the North identifies what I term ‘the cultural politics of devolution’. Through close readings of six contemporary authors – Sunjeev Sahota, Sarah Hall, Anthony Cartwright, Adam Thorpe, Fiona Mozley, and Sarah Moss – this thesis uncovers the processes by which twenty-first-century fiction about Northern England imagines alternative democratic futures for the region and the English nation. The corpus of primary works situates the North at the centre of several contemporary political developments in Britain, and is characterised by the complexities of devolution as a state-led process: uneven development, tensions between regional and national powers, democratic deficit, and agency are central concerns to which these novels consistently return. ‘The cultural politics of devolution’ thus represents a new theoretical approach to devolutionary studies that stages a dialogue between a decentralised literary-critical practice and a thematic concern with political devolution as a state-led process. Rewriting the North considers the extent to which twenty-first-century representations of Northern England simultaneously convey an urgency for alternatives to British state centralisation and reflect the limits of devolution for radical democratic change. The formal and stylistic contradictions of the texts discussed herein indicate a rejection of devolution as an emancipatory challenge to British hegemony, and position Northern England’s democratic promise in direct opposition to the Union.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Jackson, Joseph
Head, Dominic
Keywords: Northern England in literature, regionalism in literature, English question, Sunjeev Sahota, Sarah Hall, Anthony Cartwright, Adam Thorpe, Fiona Mozley, Sarah Moss
Subjects: P Language and literature > PR English literature
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 65188
Depositing User: Ashbridge, Chloe
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2021 04:41
Last Modified: 04 Aug 2023 04:30

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