Early Irish Fiction: A Definitive Scholarly Edition of Charles Johnstone, The History of Arsaces, Prince of Betlis (1774)

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of English


This project aims to provide a major new scholarly edition of an eighteenth-century novel by Charles Johnstone, The History of Arsaces, Prince of Betlis (1774), as part of a new series of Early Irish Fiction, c. 1680-1820, from Four Courts Press, Dublin. Johnstone was a much respected - and feared - satirist of his day, described by Sir Walter Scott as 'a prose Juvenal'. His work was first recommended for publication by Samuel Johnson and he quickly made a mark on the literary scene in London with his novel Chrysal; or the Adventures of a Guinea (1760-65), which spawned a host of imitations for decades. His Oriental tale, Arsaces, was among a series of novels and satires that followed; it includes early satirical references to the American War of Independence as well as the East India Company's early forays into India. Set in a geographical area arching across the middle East to India and China, and within a referential framework spanning several centuries of fictionalised history, the novel describes the adventures and education of Selim, a young Arabian, who is discovered by the end of the novel to be Arsaces, Prince of Betlis. The work straddles many genres of fictional writing that were developing in the period such as satire, oriental tale, bildungsroman, and, of course, the novel. Despite the brilliance, wit, and intelligence of his work Johnstone fell into neglect from the nineteenth century as his densely allusive and topically engaged satirical writing was sidelined by the emergence of the eighteenth-century canon of fiction favoured by Victorian critics and novelists who constructed Richardson, Sterne, Smollett, and Fielding as their fictional forebears. This edition of Arsaces will restore the vitality of this eighteenth-century text through a full scholarly apparatus including a detailed critical introduction, notes and bibliography. As part of the new Early Irish Fiction series (launched in March 2010), it will contribute greatly towards our understanding of key genres and literary tropes associated with early fiction in English, Irish literature and the Orient.

Planned Impact

o Who will benefit from this research?
This edition will directly benefit scholars and students of literature interested in the history of the English novel, Irish literature, Eighteenth-century literature, Orientalism, and Satire. The indirect benefits will be circulated in the literary and cultural domain.

o How will they benefit from this research?
The benefits are mainly in the areas of literary, historical and cultural understanding. These benefits will feed into current scholarship and, through that scholarship, into the wider realm of culture.

o What will be done to ensure that they have the opportunity to benefit from this research?
It is important to note that this edition is not being done in isolation; it is part of a series which will gain high visibility and prestige in the scholarly community. The series was launched in conjunction with a conference at Trinity College Dublin in March 2010 at which I presented a paper on Charles Johnstone in India, divulging for the first time his newspaper writings in the Calcutta Gazette. This discovery was received with gratifying interest by the scholarly community, and has led to several seminar invitations, conferences, and a fellowship offer from the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Studies (JNIAS) of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. Between 2010 and 2011 I have delivered several papers on Johnstone at locations in Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow and Oxford. In May 2011 I published a paper on "Charles Johnstone, Ireland and Empire" in a special issue of Irish University Review (IUR) which was devoted to Early Irish Fiction, 1660-1830, and edited by Ian Campbell Ross, Aileen Douglas and Moyra Haslett. These preliminary research panels, seminars, and publications within the context of the Early Irish Fiction series provide a strong platform for the emergence of the proposed edition. The fellowship at JNU Delhi will provide a further opportunity to publicise the Early Irish Fiction series and my edition in South Asia.

The work will be widely disseminated in a variety of formats and media (oral presentations, seminars, conferences, academic launches, and journal papers), the culmination of which will be the scholarly edition published by Four Courts Press. My edition of Johnstone's Arsaces will provide the definitive scholarly version of his work and will make a permanent contribution to the study of Irish fiction. An editorial series of this nature will be seen as an essential acquisition by all major university and scholarly libraries with collections in the areas of Eighteenth-century literature, Irish literature, and English fiction.

The Early Irish Fiction series is being developed under the expert guidance of the general editors: Prof. Ian Campbell Ross, Prof. Aileen Douglas, and Dr. Moyra Haslett, who are well-known authorities in the field of eighteenth-century Irish literature. The series has been widely welcomed by the scholarly community and has drawn high praise from eminent literary scholars and historians such as Prof. J. Paul Hunter, Prof. Margaret Kelleher, Prof. Toby Barnard, and Prof. Thomas Keymer among others.


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Roberts D.S. (ed.) (2014) The History of Arsaces, Prince of Betlis

Description I have produced a scholarly edition of a significant though neglected fictional work, The History of Arsaces, Prince of Betlis (1774), by the Irish writer, Charles Johnston. The edition has been published from Four Courts Press, Dublin. My research for this work has uncovered a great deal of new information on Charles Johnston which has been published in various scholarly journals and books.
Exploitation Route This work will contribute towards a better understanding of eighteenth-century literature and history.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/2014/history-of-arsaces-prince-of-betlis/
Description The findings have contributed to human understanding of issues of empire, national identity and migration, particularly in relation to the Irish author, Charles Johnston.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description JNIAS Fellowship
Amount रू 15,000 (INR)
Organisation Jawaharlal Nehru Institute for Advanced Studies 
Sector Academic/University
Country India
Start 08/2012 
End 09/2012
Title Scholarly editing 
Description My edition was based on principles of textual editing which are well established in literary studies. My contribution has been to develop a methodology based on the use of digital products, in particular the major database titled Eighteenth-Century Collections online, in the service of scholarly editing. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Other scholarly editors working on Early Irish Fiction will learn and benefit from the methodology I have adopted in my critical edition. 
Description Early Irish Fiction 
Organisation University College Dublin
Country Ireland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The edition I produced of Charles Johnston's work is part of a larger project editing early Irish fiction. Through working on this project I have collaborated with the general editors of the Early Irish Fiction project. They are: Professors Ian Campbell Ross, Aileen Douglas and Moyra Haslett.
Collaborator Contribution The general editors of the series were able to give me constructive feedback on my work throughout the process of publication.
Impact -- "A 'Teague' and a 'True Briton': Charles Johnstone, Ireland and Empire," Irish University Review 41.1 (2011), pp. 133-150. -- "Newly Recovered Articles from The Calcutta Gazette by Charles Johnstone," Eighteenth-Century Ireland 26 (2011), pp.140-169. -- The History of Arsaces, Prince of Betlis, ed. Daniel S. Roberts (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2014).
Start Year 2010
Description Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I organised a workshop at Jawaharlal Nehru University in collaboration with a lecturer from the Dept of History at JNU. We received interest from the PG students and other fellows of the Institute, leading to discussion and further contact with some of the participants.

The talk has stimulated new interest in literary and historical connections between Ireland and India between the 18th and 19th centuries. A number of students have become interested in researching this area; we have admitted PhD students from India to QUB on the back of this interest.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012