Ingrid Horrocks - Women Wanderers and the Writing of Mobility, 1784-1814. Reviewed by Kathryn Pratt Russell
Kathryn Pratt Russell
Clayton State University
Ingrid Horrocks’s rigorous study of “women wanderers” in the late eighteenth century contributes to a critical tradition in British travel studies, recently represented by Elizabeth Bohls, Celeste Langan, Michael Wiley, Robin Jarvis, and others. Horrocks, though, attends to a gap in gender studies and the theory of travel by not merely focusing upon a particular author or genre, but instead enlarging the scope of her analysis in order to argue that at the end of the eighteenth century, British women authors began to write about travel and wandering in ways specific to their gender position, and not limited by genre. As opposed to their male counterparts, who, when depicting women wanderers, portrayed them as objects of loss and abjection, female authors wrote of women wanderers as representative of a “deep homelessness” (7) that reconfigures eighteenth-century theories of sympathy.
Horrocks acknowledges the influence on her argument of “mobility studies” from other disciplines, notably sociology. She explains that this work “has extensively demonstrated the many ways in which, on the contrary to being associated with freedom, mobility is frequently associated with, and reinscribes, social and economic inequalities of all kinds” (21). Citing John Urry’s seminal study Mobilities (2007), which replaces the notion of travel as freedom with a paradigm of mobility as structured by economic and social capital, Horrocks places her own emphasis on the problems of mobility for women in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century Britain.
The first two chapters of the book establish the literary history of the poetic wanderer, beginning with Thomson’s The Seasons and the stationary, authoritative position of the viewer in the prospect poem, a position linked with the pride and reach of empire in the early eighteenth century. By the time of the publication of Goldsmith’s The Traveller in 1764, the tensions within British society between the authorities of the land (the viewers of the grand prospect) and the people (whose wandering is increasingly limited by land’s privatization) compel Goldsmith to imagine an elegiac community of the dispossessed, represented by a poet-wanderer sympathizing with exiles and “claiming vision through the shared experience of homelessness” (58). In Cowper’s The Task (1785), Horrocks writes, the threatening mobility inherent in the prospect poem drives the poet back to the security of the home, in which his detached view in “The Winter Evening” both takes up and avoids the threat of the dispossessed, wandering subject, as Goodman has described it. Horrocks is thorough in her readings of important contributions from other critics, here acknowledging her debt to Simpson’s and Burgess’s recent work on mobility and Adam Smith’s theory of sympathy.
Charlotte Smith’s poems are the final elements of this tracing of the development of the wanderer as poetic speaker, as Horrocks covers both The Emigrants (1793) and Elegiac Sonnets (1784) in this portion of her study. Smith is the first woman writer fully to represent the ideologically-charged figure of the reluctant wanderer and to explore the deep homelessness of the woman poet, exiled and denied a retreat like the one in The Task. This homeless, mobile perspective becomes representative of the modern condition and informs the endless repetitions and revisions of Elegiac Sonnets, with their exiled and emotionally isolated female speaker.
Genre comes to the fore as Horrocks turns in Chapter Three to the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe to show how these novels containing verse and plot digressions are able to enact through their form the anxieties of the wandering woman poet. Horrocks grounds her claims about The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and its wandering Emily by returning to the writers she previously discussed, and their view of sympathy and mobility. Ultimately, Horrocks concludes, Radcliffe proposes an “endless circulation of feeling between people and texts” (139), enabling although sometimes threatening. In Chapter Four, Mary Wollstonecraft critiques the gender politics of the social circulation of sympathy when she refuses to take up the woman’s traditional position as its suffering object. Wollstonecraft revises the traditional style and genre of the travel narrative in her own Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1795) and thus emphasizes the homelessness and suffering of the woman wanderer. While revealing the danger of losing oneself or others through the extremes of affect, Wollstonecraft depicts the women wanderer as producing through movement the only possibility of a future affective community, even though this home “does not yet exist and never has” (155).
Horrocks’s last chapter, fittingly focused on Frances Burney’s 1814 novel The Wanderer, explores Burney’s subtitle, “Female Difficulties,” to illustrate how the novel’s difficult form, with extreme narrative and grammatical digressions, enacts the tortured experience of mobility for those who, like women wanderers, do not “have access to the privilege that makes travel—and its associated experiences—a source of improvement and self-development” (200). In all of its chapters, this well-researched book charts a way forward for scholars and historians attempting to relate gender and affect studies to the construction of the modern subject in British culture.