Gender, Genre, and Looking in Motion: Dorothy Wordsworth & Mary Shelley’s Travel Writing
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My project initially turns upon the question: how do we read unfixed texts that blur established genres and question these generic constructions of subjectivity, especially gendered subjectivity? I focus on travel writing in particular as source material because of its potential for generic multiplicity. Specifically, I examine Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal of a Tour on the Continent (1820) and Mary Shelley’s History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817) and Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844). Romantic frameworks of aesthetic theory guide this project, namely the long shadows of the sublime, beautiful and picturesque. However, instead of identifying “the female picturesque” or the “female sublime” in Shelley and Wordsworth’s writing, I instead investigate moments when their texts transcend orthodox aesthetic terminology and frames, where they create new categories for integrating the landscape with imagination and memory, explicitly informed by their gender. Thus, I perform less of a feminist analysis than a study that analyzes how travel writing, for both Wordsworth and Shelley, is the medium through which they can investigate cultivating empathy through observation and integration. Their travel writing triangulates aesthetics, gender, and memory to provide distinctive practices of describing and existing in motion, ways that revise the dominant discourse of Romantic period travel writing. Both Wordsworth and Shelley question the exchange between the traveler, the landscape, and the inhabitants of the land; they ask what the value of transmuting travel to literature is, as well as how this transmission can facilitate empathetic interaction.