He remains an Englishman? : Masculine nostalgia and the perception of the German threat in mid-Victorian and Edwardian England

  • James Thomas Earnshaw

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis investigates the prevalence, pertinence, and potency of a recurrent gender discourse in mid-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century England: masculine nostalgia. Nostalgic views of the national past abounded in Victorian and Edwardian England. This narrative, espoused by commentators and politicians, claimed that contemporary English men were heirs to a great ancestral legacy, bequeathed to them by their predecessors who embodied a paradigm of masculinity. This story facilitated, and ostensibly legitimated, a sense of entitlement for the English, particularly for white upper-middle-class men. However, it also invited nagging doubts over whether the present generation could live up to their progenitors’ idealised masculine character.

This thesis examines when and why this nostalgic disposition became intersected by masculine angst, and what impact this trope had on the language of politics. It asks what conditions instigated these insecurities; why these concerns persisted throughout the mid-Victorian and Edwardian period; and how these fears were communicated to the English public. In short, the thesis seeks to uncover a historical continuity amid a period of immense social, political, and cultural change. It argues that the perception of the German threat between 1870 and 1909 resulted, in part, from a projection of latent English masculine insecurities. The reactions to this imagined threat were shaped by a lingering sense of inadequacy vis-à-vis previous generations. Chapters one and two examine how this discourse emerged beyond a German stimulus in the responses to the Indian Uprisings of 1857, and the origins of the Volunteer Movement in 1859. Chapters three to seven consider how the portrayal of, and responses to, German foreign policy reveal that this nostalgic view of the past shaped attitudes towards rivals’ policies. The thesis concludes that masculine nostalgia was a powerful discourse that was weaponized by upper-middle-class men to socialise contemporaries into social, political, and gender hierarchies.
Date of Award30 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorFrank Lorenz Müller (Supervisor) & Sarah Easterby-Smith (Supervisor)


  • Masculinity
  • Nostalgia
  • Cultural history
  • Gender history
  • Anglo-German relations
  • Victorian Britain
  • Edwardian Britain
  • Englishness

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 6th September 2027

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