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Put it down to the lack of a national epic. Many countries have a single, agreed national text, as distinct from an oral myth—a literary classic that for centuries has celebrated its country’s founding and virtues. Manzoni’s The Betrothed, Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Cervantes’s Don Quixote removed a crucial pressure from their successors.
In Britain, the situation is different. There is no ancient national epic—The Faerie Queene is a gigantic and fantastical romance, Paradise Lost is only indirectly concerned with nationhood. Pope’s idea of a classicising epic of the founding of…
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