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Romantic Travelers

ENGL 250.601
instructor(s):
T 6-9

For Enlightenment thinkers, travel was a powerful metaphor for the acquisition of knowledge, and no British gentleman's education was complete without a European tour with stops in Paris, Rome, and Milan. But with Europe in revolutionary turmoil and Britain engaged in a perpetual war with France, in the early 19th century the essential tour became a practical impossibility. New forms of travel, both physical and imaginative, appeared to fill the void: the picturesque tourist and the solitary wanderer are iconic figures on the romantic literary landscape. This seminar will draw out the central place travel holds as a practice and metaphor in romantic literature. Through novels by Mary Shelley, Walter Scott, and Jane Austen, poems by Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, and Percy Shelley, and prose by Thomas Dequincy and Mary Wollstonecraft, we will explore practical questions (how, where, and why romantic authors traveled, and what literary forms they used to record their experiences), and move into less concrete issues raised in and by travel writing: Where does fact become fiction? Why does travel foster introspection? What types of knowledge do romantic travel writers produce about themselves? About others? Our readings will range from the prototypical romantic travel narrative to texts that imaginatively extend the geographical and temporal boundaries of early 19th century Britain. Course requirements include reading responses, one short essay, and one longer seminar paper, and sprightly participation in class discussions.