A Sense of Place and the Uncertainty of the Self
In this dissertation, I conceive of three interlocking developments in geography: the revolution of infrastructure, the circulation of goods and print, and the completion of the map of the world. The enclosure of lands and the construction of turnpikes and canals not only broadened opportunities for travel and navigation but also accelerated the dissemination of commodities of all sorts. I argue that these geographical developments expanded, sometimes beyond the point of recognition, familiar notions of place that were framed by a parish or estate or even a metropolis. The connection between familiar locales and vastly expanded zones of travel and voyaging became increasingly tenuous. Centrality as an idea was threatened by the reach and complexity of this “new” Britain and the new “New” world. Through successive waves of expansion – each more extensive and pervasive than the previous – the relationship between the center and the periphery was radically altered. The ownership of the eye from a fixed, central place was, then, not adequate or sufficient for describing the experience of movement. The impact on literature was correspondingly great. The traveling poem, literature of the road, the grand tour, poems of place, and the lyrical ballad undermined the authority of a stable prospect, displacing it into a stereographic projection of multiple, mobile, and provisional points of view. My first chapter on Anne Finch discusses Eastwell Park as a local center in transition. Finch’s withdrawal from the Court into the country was for her a loss of power and influence, but she compensated for it by writing landscape poetry, which was a significant departure from rural idealization. In my second chapter, Robinson Crusoe’s flight from the “New” world breaks the archetype of the merchant adventurer by setting it in an island whose “subtleties” reflected in the “great-thoroughfare” of the settler’s brain. In chapter 3, I treat Joseph Banks as another failed archetype, this time of a Linnaean taxonomist. Banks brought data and specimens home from the South Seas in order to place them into classes and genera, but this plan was foiled by the singularity of his experiences there. Banks became a hybrid figure, the grand tourist turned into a native, a scientist turned into a collector of curiosities. In chapter 4, I discuss georgic and topographical poetry as a literary development indissolubly linked with the systole and diastole of world-wide traffic. John Dryden’s London, John Dyer’s trans-Severn Siluria as well as William Wordsworth’s Blackcomb are the specific poetic locales enveloped by an ever more complex sense of the world. In my final chapter, I turn the argument of the dissertation to Wordsworth as chief inheritor of this real geographic revolution. In writing Salisbury Plain, Wordsworth sought for a poetic law of movement that would simulate this revolution in the material world. Wordsworth’s ceaseless movement as a traveler transformed the region of Salisbury into a sea, and he sailed on a gypsy caravan into the island of Stonehenge, an uncanny place that combined personal alienation and cultural dislocation in 1793. My critical perspective has been developed in a framework of recent thinkers, such as Michel Serres, Kevin Hetherington, Bruno Latour, and Alain Badiou. A fresh, original theme in their work is what I call “trajectivity” - the rhythmic tracing and retracing of fluid lines of connection between events and situations. My dissertation claims that the materiality of this geographic trajectory now took place in literary imaginings of their own global network and thus constituted a new geographical condition of superposing post-colonial “literary empire” on British imperialism.