Are you English? Did you ever want to be? Did you ever try to be? Or if
you are, are you really English? Even if you are English, do you feel that you are never quite right, never quite the right sort of English man or woman?
Could it be the case that you can never, quite, be properly English? That being English is either a state of aspiration for those who know they are not English, but want to be and want to identify themselves as
English, or, for those who are English, nevertheless a kind of constant failure ever to quite live up to its complete picture? Whether because you are not quite the right class, or because you have not acquired the right cultural capital, or more simply because Englishness is somehow located in the past, in a realm and a lifestyle that now exist only in the imagination. For many who have written about what it means to be English, from Arthur Bryant to Roger Scruton, Englishness is not a
reality, it is a dream. If it is now often a dream of the past, this is because in that past it was once a dream of the future. Of a future that never came into being. At least, not in the form in which it was ever imagined.
This book represents a new development of ideas first broached in Colonial Desire (1995), and then extended in the essay ‘Hybridism and the Ethnicity of the English’ (1996). In
recent years, particularly since devolution in the UK, the question of what exactly constitutes the identity of England and of Englishness has exercised a whole range of cultural commentators. The uncertainty about Englishness arises, however, from more than just the challenges of devolution, or even the end of empire. In this book, I argue that it is rather the long-term result of the fact that, starting in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Englishness was never really about
England, its cultural essence or national character, at all...