Robin Jarvis, Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel. London: Macmillan, 1997. x + 246pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-65814-0).
Anne D. Wallace
University of Southern Mississippi
In this contribution to the ongoing critical discussion of mobility and literature in the modern world, 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. Many of his most important claims concern "pedestrian travel," the long-distance touring he characterizes as "fluid, improvised, open-ended walking" (90). But he also surveys the varieties of motivations, forms and expressions of walking during the period so that, rather than advancing one master thesis, Jarvis collects related observations of
the ways in which intellectual processes and textual effects are grounded in the material practice of walking. . . . This is not to imply some organic oneness of sense and expression in peripatetic literature, but to insist that in the displacement from physical experience to the order of imagined reality and literary representation the rhythms and modalities of walking remain a visibly determining influence. (33)
Without being reductive, I think it is safe to say that Jarvis attributes what he later calls "the potential of the genetic link between walking and writing" (91), in the specific case of pedestrian travel, to what he identifies as the freely directed, irregular, underdetermined physical qualities of such movement. These qualities, which Jarvis posits as inhering in the materialities of pedestrianism itself, mean that such travel can embody resistance to cultural categories from the personal to the aesthetic to the political, and at levels ranging from the oppositional to a suspension of resolution resembling Keats's "negative capability." Jarvis also argues that these free, resistant material and psychological conditions of pedestrian travel can be traced in the formal and thematic textual effects of writers who were themselves pedestrian travelers (or whose walking, for some reason, approached that specific modality). Like several recent critics—although no work of this kind had been published when he began his inquiry—Jarvis locates the release of pedestrianism's positive textual potential in the Romantic period, agreeing with Leslie Stephen's classic claim that "'the literary movement at the end of the eighteenth century was . . . due in great part, if not mainly, to the renewed practice of walking.