Transnational aesthetics in Ann Radcliffe’s: A journey made in the summer of 1794 […] (1795)

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In a survey of the precursors to William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (1835), Ernest de Sélincourt notes the atypical nature of Ann Radcliffe’s A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794, through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany, with a Return Down the Rhine: to which are added Observations During a Tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland (1795). He writes, ‘though, doubtless, she gained many a “horrid” suggestion from her tour, her remarks upon it are written with unusual restraint’ (Wordsworth 2004: xvi). Within her larger corpus, Radcliffe’s narrative does, indeed, seem anomalous. Funded with the proceeds from her most famous novel The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and written immediately before the publication of The Italian (Norton 1999: 108), Radcliffe’s Journey combines the Grand Tour and Home Tour traditions and, in doing so, contrasts her experience of the Continent during the French Revolutionary Wars with her tour of the English Lake District. A reader of her fiction might well expect her Journey to be filled with descriptions of antiquarian ruins, sublime vistas and picturesque vignettes. Although these aesthetic set pieces – the grist of the Radcliffean Gothic – do appear in her travel writing, the narrative also relies on another aesthetic, one that figures Radcliffe’s more immediate and affective response to the impact of the Holy Roman Empire’s war with France on the German topography and people. Radcliffe’s narrative juxtaposes the sublime elements of Saddleback and Skiddaw in the Lake country, as well as picturesque landscapes along the Rhine ‘so clear, so delicately roseate as Claude only could have painted’ (Radcliffe 1795: 138), with detailed descriptions of cities and towns ravaged by war and the wounded French and German soldiers that she encounters. Similarly, she sketches ruined abbeys and convents and references antiquarian sources such as Thomas West’s A Guide to the Lakes: Cumberland, Westmoreland, Lancashire (1778), which Wordsworth, too, consulted; however, her depictions of recently abandoned towns in the Palatinate leave the strongest impressions on the reader’s imagination. Through a focus on these contrasting aesthetic treatments of space and time, this chapter explores the ways in which Radcliffe’s Journey troubles the distancing and mediating techniques used to gauge Romantic writers’ experiences of foreign and familiar lands and figure the boundaries of their own national and global affiliations.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnn Radcliffe, Romanticism and the Gothic
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139507448
ISBN (Print)9781107032835
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


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