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Liberal Epic

The Victorian Practice of History from Gibbon to Churchill
Edward Adams

BUY Cloth · 336 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813931456 · $45.00 · Jun 2012
BUY Ebook · 336 pp. · ISBN 9780813931500 · $29.50 · Jun 2012
BUY Paper · 336 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813934419 · $29.50 · Mar 2013

Barbara Perkins and George Perkins Prize, International Society for the Study of Narrative (2012); CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association (2011)

In Liberal Epic, Edward Adams examines the liberal imagination’s centuries-long dependence on contradictory, and mutually constitutive, attitudes toward violent domination. Adams centers his ambitious analysis on a series of major epic poems, histories, and historical novels, including Dryden’s Aeneid, Pope’s Iliad, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Byron’s Don Juan, Scott’s Life of Napoleon, Napier’s History of the War in the Peninsula, Macaulay’s History of England, Hardy’s Dynasts, and Churchill’s military histories—works that rank among the most important publishing events of the past three centuries yet that have seldom received critical attention relative to their importance. In recovering these neglected works and gathering them together as part of a self-conscious literary tradition here defined as liberal epic, Adams provides an archaeology that sheds light on contemporary issues such as the relation of liberalism to war, the tactics for sanitizing heroism, and the appeal of violence to supposedly humane readers.

Victorian Literature and Culture Series


"This is a very substantial and original piece of work, which makes a striking contribution to the history of epic in the modern world and extends the significance of its topic in ambitious ways—indeed, way beyond the ‘Victorian’ era signaled in its title. The author sets out to trace a particular history from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the contemporary moment, a history centered on the representation of battlefield violence. Such a project requires a massive extension of the canon of ‘epic’ to include not only those extended narrative poems that have traditionally earned the title but also all the great historical narrative accounts of wars and warfare. The result is an extraordinary scholarly achievement and will appeal to all those who teach classes on the poetry of war and on its historiography."

Simon Dentith, University of Reading

"Anyone interested in the great tradition of English historical literature is bound to be stimulated and enlightened by this superb book."


In Liberal Epic, Edward Adams analyzes a literary genre that is captured by the book's seemingly oxymoronic title that names a genre of heroic tales of military history, at once celebrating war while sanitizing its necessary violence.... Any brief summary of the book cannot do it justice, as Adams covers immense ground both in terms of chronology and in terms of the many literary figures examined throughout....

Journal of British Studies

One way to imagine this evolution is to compare the origins of Chinese martial arts rooted in necessity to the present-day acrobatic, flying, floating, stylized Wushu fighting in Ang Lee’s celebrated film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Figuratively similar to the warriors in the film, Adams appears to leap effortlessly across rooftops, to glide over water without leaving a ripple, and to dance nimbly on the tops of bamboo trees. The book’s pace and sweep leaves the reader breathless at how quickly he travels from Homer’s Iliad to John Romero’s DOOM (a first-person shooter video game).

Paul E. Kerry

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