What meaning does the past hold for the present? History writing often prioritizes the ethos and actions of the "great men" of the past, those connected to formal expressions of power, as models worthy of imitation. The problem with such exemplars is that they craft a limited view of national identity, drawn from political, economic, religious, and social institutional superstructures. Inherently exclusionary, narratives of exemplary men inadequately represent the complexities of a metropolitan and diverse society.

In Exemplary England, Sarabeth Grant explores three canonical texts of 1740s England that critique the class, geography, and gender assumptions of the exemplar model. Through original readings of Alexander Pope, Thomas Gray, and Samuel Richardson, she locates practices of constituting history and registering national identity in eighteenth-century England beyond that tradition. Her book argues that these literary texts offer recompense for the national injustices endured by the disenfranchised, charting the development of inward historical consciousness as necessary to civic stability.

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