This introductory chapter gives a brief overview of the book as a whole and identifies the main strands of nation-building that it explores: language, history (a shared sense of the past), topography (a shared sense and conception of place, particularly the frequent misrepresentation of England as an ‘island’), the creation of a literary canon, and the promotion of a participatory political culture. It outlines the impact of the Reformation and of humanism on the formation of English identity and argues that the writing of the mid-Tudor period, categorised by C. S. Lewis as ‘drab’, did not retreat — as Alistair Fox has suggested — from ‘fictive’ forms. The chapter also asserts the continued influence of Latin and continental literature and culture on the formation of English identities and an English literary tradition.
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