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Reinventing Liberty

Nation, Commerce and the Historical Novel from Walpole to Scott

Fiona Price

eBook (ePub) i
Open Access

Redefines the British historical novel as a key site in the construction of British national identity

The British historical novel has often been defined in the terms set by Walter Scott’s fiction, as a reflection on a clear break between past and present. Returning to the range of historical fiction written before Scott, Reinventing Liberty challenges this view by returning us to the rich range of historical novels written in the late eighteenth-century. It explores how these works participated in a contentious debate concerning political change and British national identity. Ranging across well-known writers, like William Godwin, Horace Walpole and Frances Burney, to lesser-known figures, such as Cornelia Ellis Knight and Jane Porter, Reinventing Liberty reveals how history becomes a site to rethink Britain as ‘land of liberty’ and it positions Scott in relation to this tradition.

Key Features

  • Recovers the richness of the historical novel and history writing before Walter Scott, including the contribution of women writers to this debate
  • Explores how historical fiction probes anxieties at the rise of commerce, the question of empire, and radical political change
  • Rewrites our understanding of Scott and his relation to the earlier British historical novel


1. Ancient Liberties
2. The Labours of History
3. Uneasy Alliances: Liberty and the Nation
4. Conserving Histories: Chivalry, Science and Liberty
5. The End of History? Scott, his Precursors and the Violent Past

About the Author

Fiona Price is the author of Revolutions in Taste: 1773-1818: Women Writers and the Aesthetics of Romanticism (2009), co-editor with Ben Dew of Historical Writing in Britain 1688-1830: Visions of History (Palgrave, 2014) and editor of two historical novels, Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1810; 2007) and Sarah Green’s Private History of the Court of England (1808; 2011). She has published extensively on historical fiction, the Romantic novel, and women’s writing.


I finished reading this work energized and with scores of ideas dancing through my mind for approaches to future research on the primary works with which Price engages... In sum, the work’s merit lies less in literary criticism and more in the cogent contextualization of eighteenth-century philosophies on display in the stories told about Britain’s national identity.
- Romantic Textualities, Issue 22
Price’s Reinventing Liberty is a welcome addition to the body of scholarship on the early historical novel, Romantic-era fiction, and women writers and politics.
- Anne H. Stevens, University of Nevada, Review of English Studies

A field-changing book. Price brings an encyclopedic knowledge, informed eye, and nuanced understanding to the early British novel. Questioning critical categories then and now, she energizes period debates about the novel’s inventiveness, politics and generic stability. Price’s reach is extensive—women feature prominently. Her analysis is incisive, her conclusions challenging.

- University of Wyoming, Caroline McCracken-Flesher

Reinventing Liberty demonstrates at every turn a wide and deep knowledge of the historical novel. Refusing to position Waverley as historical fiction’s origin or telos, the book revises our sense of Scott’s relationship to his innovative predecessors. Their historical novels have rarely been given their due or the careful attention that Price rightly and admirably provides in this groundbreaking book.

- Arizona State University, Devoney Looser

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