Observations and Conjectures on Literature, History, and Society
Edited by Regina Hewitt
Publication date:18 May 2012
Length of book:390 pages
PublisherBucknell University Press
This volume offers a revaluation of the work of Romantic-era Scottish writer John Galt. Galt traveled throughout the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds and founded the Canadian city of Guelph while remaining in touch with local cultures and politics in Scotland and England. He wrote fiction, drama, and biography based on his personal observations of life and in ways that associated him with the “theoretical” or “conjectural” methods of Scottish Enlightenment historiographers. Galt’s insights into the societies he inhabited and visited, his perceptions of political extremism and class conflict, his attitudes toward community building and progress, his convictions about determinism and historical revisionism, his strategies for manipulating literary genres and readers’ responses, and his ambivalence about the value of literature deserve consideration in light of new thinking in our own fields about what constitutes social knowledge and viable ways to represent it. The essays in this volume examine Galt’s work in light of the convergence of literature, history, and social theory in Scottish Enlightenment and Romantic-era culture and in our own interdisciplinary environment. Discussing Galt’s work and significance in the many areas, genres, and contexts in which he figures, they broaden the circle of contacts with whom we associate Galt, moving from expected comparisons with contemporaries Walter Scott and James Hogg to unexpected links with such later authors and social thinkers as George Douglas Brown and Harriet Martineau. Moreover, these essays expand the repertoire of works studied, offering the first extended analyses of Eben Erskine, Rothelan, and the Travels and Observations of Hareach, the Wandering Jew along with new readings of Annals of the Parish, Bogle Corbet, and Ringan Gilhaize. Overall, the essays draw out the implications of Galt’s practices and relations as a journalist, dramatist, critic, biographer, and novelist, developing grounded conjectures about their significance in Galt’s time and our own.
Galt (1779-1832) has always been in the shadow of writers like Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg, but his stock has been rising in recent decades. In her introduction, Hewitt (Univ. of South Florida) highlights Galt's contribution to theoretical and conjectural history through his observations and comments on human institutions and practices, especially in novels like Annals of the Parish and The Ayrshire Legatees. These 15 essays, most by established scholars, help situate and rehabilitate Galt, including beyond the local and national contexts. The volume comprises four sections. The three essays in the first, "Progress, Memory, and Communities," resituate and rehabilitate Galt, his serial works, and his travel writing and epistolary fiction. Section 2, "Conflict and Consensus" (three essays), treats diverse topics like narrative strategies, detective fiction, and trauma theory. Galt's versatility is highlighted in section 3, "Justice and Tolerance" (four essays), in treatments of his medievalism, the "wandering Jew" theme, drama and criticism, and his "magazinity." And section 4, "Identities and Ethics" (four essays), considers "local" matters (cf. The Provost, The Member); circum-Atlantic topics, especially immigration and Canada (Bogle Corbet); European national characters in his travel writings; and Galt the social theorist and Harriet Martineau. The volume offers many new and different approaches to Galt. Summing Up: Recommended.