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Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel Paperback – 10 Nov 1999


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  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (10 Nov 1999)
  • ISBN-10: 0333794605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0333794609
  • Product Dimensions: 350.5 x 45.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,419,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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'A carefully researched study...a provocative interpretation of how pedestrianism stimulated Romantic Poetry.' - Literature & History

'The section on Clare is the strongest in this study, offering the most nuanced reading of an oeuvre by a person who walked both for work and leisure...The discussion of Hazlitt's On Going a Journey helpfully fleshes out the political implications of walking in the wake of the French Revolution.' - Toby R. Benis, The Wordsworth Circle

'Robin Jarvis significantly refines our understanding of the material histories of walking and these histories' conjunctions with literature in Britain during the crucial period from the 1780s to the 1820s...a thoughtful, provocative study which also contributes to Romantic studies at large.' - Anne D. Wallace, Romantic Circles

'This is a deeply engaging book. Like the pedestrian mode which it takes as its subject it is unhurried, ambulatory, association; and yet at the same time it is also fully animated by a thoroughgoing sense of definite purpose and direction...[A]ppropriately enough, this is all undertaken in a style that is relaxed as well as reflective, so that the book itself comes to read like a peculiarly pleasurable kind of walk, with its well-prepared 'bridges' and smoothly-conducted transitions, its anecdotal byways and its more formal resting-places...[t]he richness and suggestivity of Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel, and its very material relevance to any consideration of Romantic thought, that in the course of reading it one should be so often inspired to follow up some of its many 'hints and guesses', and to pursue for oneself one or two of its 'paths not taken.' - Gregory Dart, BARS Bulletin and Review

'Robin Jarvis's documentation of the needs and notions of walkers in the Romantic era provides essential grounds for further discussions'. - Michael Baron, John Clare Society Journal

'This is a committed book, researched in depth...highly accurate'. - Peter Larkin, The Coleridge Bulletin

'Robin Jarvis, in his stimulating book Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel, is one of the new Romanticists writing today to link, in a serious and convincing way, cultural and historical decisions to choices poets make about...their poems.' - Jeffrey Robinson, Romanticism

About the Author

ROBIN JARVIS is a Principal Lecturer and Head of Literary Studies at the University of the West of England, Bristol. He previously taught at Lancaster University and King Alfred's College, Winchester. His publications include Wordsworth, Milton and the Theory of Poetic Relations and (as co-editor) Reviewing Romanticism.

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Format: Hardcover
In this thorough and imaginative study Robin Jarvis discusses how the rise of pedestrian travel in the last two decades of the 18th century was reflected in the writings of key British Romantic writers, with a particular emphasis on Wordsworth and Coleridge.

At the end of the 18th century the practice of travelling for learning and enjoyment ("tourism") began to spread. The Grand Tour had been progressively downclassed towards people with more limited means than wealthy aristocrats. Also domestic touring came in vogue. Within that development a distinctive subculture of `pedestrianism' appears with middle class professionals eschewing safer choices for a mode of transport that was more risky and traditionally held in low esteem. The reasons for the rise of pedestrian travel are manifold: political anti-conformism, the opening up of the country to the spirit of rational enquiry, the ethos of pilgrimage, and the pursuit of aesthetic satisfactions in nature.

Early Romantic walkers were likely under the spell of all of these impulses which is reflected in the montage-like nature of a lot of the travel writing from those years. Jarvis dwells only briefly on the prose as his focus is on the poetry. I may be doing injustice to a complex and sprawling argument but it seems to me there are two key ways in which the pedestrian experience was embodied in the work of Wordsworth, Coleridge and others. First, there is the adoption of blank verse (the unrhymed pentameter) as the preferred metrical structure "because it was here that the muscular rhythms indigenous both to walking and poetry were brought into intuitive correspondence."

Second is a particular aesthetic sensibility which connects to the rise of picturesqueness at the end of the 18th century.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
The consonance between poetry, walking and landscape 22 Aug 2010
By Philippe Vandenbroeck - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In this thorough and imaginative study Robin Jarvis discusses how the rise of pedestrian travel in the last two decades of the 18th century was reflected in the writings of key British Romantic writers, with a particular emphasis on Wordsworth and Coleridge.

At the end of the 18th century the practice of travelling for learning and enjoyment ("tourism") began to spread. The Grand Tour had been progressively downclassed towards people with more limited means than wealthy aristocrats. Also domestic touring came in vogue. Within that development a distinctive subculture of `pedestrianism' appears with middle class professionals eschewing safer choices for a mode of transport that was more risky and traditionally held in low esteem. The reasons for the rise of pedestrian travel are manifold: political anti-conformism, the opening up of the country to the spirit of rational enquiry, the ethos of pilgrimage, and the pursuit of aesthetic satisfactions in nature.

Early Romantic walkers were likely under the spell of all of these impulses which is reflected in the montage-like nature of a lot of the travel writing from those years. Jarvis dwells only briefly on the prose as his focus is on the poetry. I may be doing injustice to a complex and sprawling argument but it seems to me there are two key ways in which the pedestrian experience was embodied in the work of Wordsworth, Coleridge and others. First, there is the adoption of blank verse (the unrhymed pentameter) as the preferred metrical structure "because it was here that the muscular rhythms indigenous both to walking and poetry were brought into intuitive correspondence."

Second is a particular aesthetic sensibility which connects to the rise of picturesqueness at the end of the 18th century. Jarvis stresses the playful nature of a picturesque gaze that is constantly engaged in experimentation and re-envisioning (as a counterweight to its tendency to judge natural scenes against certain inflexible ideals derived from Italian landscape artists). This playfulness, argues Jarvis, performatively contaminates a lot of the poetry of those days, as is evident from a certain aesthetic roughness, a resisting of argumentative or visionary closure, a tendency to indulge in the freely mixing of "the materials of observation with the materials of learning and memory and the materials of invention." Just as the rhythmic qualities of blank verse suggest a powerful association with the regular alternation of right foot and left foot, so the improvisatory nature of the poetic narrative correlates with the sequential, disjointed texture of walking. Jarvis substantiates this by a detailed discussion of Wordsworth poems such as `An Evening Walk', `The Ruined Cottage', `Salisbury Plain' and parts of `The Prelude'. These observations also apply to Coleridge. As regards the use of blank verse, "there is, in fact, a remarkable caesura in Coleridge's poetic career that corresponds with the chronology of his life as an active walker: in the ten years of his wanderings he produced around twenty-five significant compositions in blank verse; after his return from Malta (...) I count only three finished poems in blank verse (...) the coincidence is striking." Also Coleridge's ability to tailor the composition according to the physical pattern provided by a place is revealed.

The focus is not exclusively on these two authors. There is a separate chapter on Dorothy Wordsworth and John Clare. And a final discussion on `late Romantic voices', including Hazlitt, Keats and Hunt.

All in all I found it a rich and worthwhile read. Jarvis' prose is supple and engaging. However, it seems to me the book originated as a collection of loosely connected papers which the author subsequently integrated into a more encompassing argument. This explains why at times the argument comes across as rather uneven, with concepts or references suddenly popping into focus and disappearing as quickly, never to be mentioned again. A pity it is also that Jarvis restricts his focus to Britain only. It would have been fascinating to validate his insights with important contemporaneous German pedestrian poets such as Hölderlin and Kleist.

It is a pity that this book is so difficult to get hold of as the topic of pedestrianism is generating a broader interest. Rebecca Solnit put it on the map for a wider audience with her `Wanderlust'. In addition there is an emergent, sustainability-oriented intersection of different research areas - anthropology (see Tim Ingold's work), landscape theory and landscape urbanism, and critical theory - in which the practice of walking plays a pivotal role.
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