Katie Ebner-Landy

The study of national character in seventeenth-century London: from satire to social science

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In mid seventeenth-century London, a new fashion arose: writing the characters of nations. Over the course of 40 years, this fashion went through three different trends. The essence of a place was firstly determined through a series of rhetorical figures (in characters of the Low Countries, France, Italy and Spain), secondly through eye-witness observation (in characters of England and Maryland) and thirdly through demographic statistics (in a political anatomy of Ireland). These rival approaches gave rise to an extensive debate, as much about epistemology as about style, with individual character-writers each fighting to present their method of determining the nature of a nation as the right approach. Where national character is first expressed in the form of satire, by the end of the century, it has transformed into a social science, with little room left for the rhetorical aspiration to inform as well as delight


  • National character
  • Satire
  • Social Science
  • Epistemology
  • Rhetoric


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