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Home, Exile, and Wanderlust Austen and the Romantic Poets BethLau

in

California State University, Long Beach

The

tradition

of

regarding

Jane Austen

as

non-

or

even

anti-Romantic

is

long standing. Recent proponents of this view include JeromeMcGann, who

insists thatAusten did not espouse

the Romantic ideology (18-19, 29-31), and

Anne Mellor, who claims that Austen, along with other "leading women

intel

lectuals or writers of the day,"

"did

not" participate in the Romantic "spirit of

the age" ("Why Women Didn't

Like Romanticism"

274) but instead embraced

an alternative ideology thatMellor labels "feminine Romanticism" {Romanti

cism and Gender 3 and passim.). Other scholars have challenged this view and

argued forAusten's

affinitieswith one or more of themale Romantic poets.1

My essay seeks to contribute to this goal of integrating Jane Austen within the

Romantic movement and canon by demonstrating that her works share many

characteristics

commonly

associated

with

the male

poets

and,

conversely,

that

theworks of themale poets share characteristics commonly associated with

Austen.2

Austen's novels, with their restricted settings and homebound heroines ?

"3 or 4 Families

in a Country Village" ?

ingredients for a story (Letters275)

as she herself described her favorite

are commonly contrasted to theworks

of the Romantic poets, who write of quests, journeys, and restless aspiration.

Critics such as Marilyn Butler and Alistair

Duckworth believe thatAusten,

like Edmund

Burke,

idealizes

the landed

estate and

the

"organic,

hierarchical

small

community"

as

the basis

of

a

stable,

ethical

society,

which

restless, up

rooted individuals like Henry and Mary Crawford inMansfield Park irrespon

sibly threaten (Butler 3, see also 287; Duckworth 45-48). Moreover, Austen has

come to be regarded as a quintessentially English writer, part of a "British

heritage

culture"

according

to Clara

Tuite,

associated

with

"green

England"

and aristocratic country houses

(12-15, 21-22). Austen herself encourages such

a view when she celebrates Mr. Knightley's Donwell Abbey for epitomizing

"English verdure, English culture, [and] English comfort" (Emma 360). Such a

reading of Austen as a novelist of stability, aristocracy, and place ismislead

ing

and

incomplete,

however.

An

examination

of Austen's

fiction

reveals

a

complex, conflicted attitude toward

fixed location, community, and class

writers.3

the concepts of home and belonging to a that allies her with other major Romantic

91

92 BethLau

It is true that many Austen heroines yearn for a stable home, but they do so

because they have experienced actual or threatened displacement. Elinor and

Marianne

Dashwood

as well

as Anne

Elliot are forced to leave their family

estates, and the Bennet sisters are haunted by the prospect of being turned out

of the house by Mr. Collins when their father dies. The character who suffers

most radically from uprootedness

is Fanny Price, who

is removed from her

home toMansfield Park when she is ten years old and feels lonely and outcast

in her new abode. When

Sir Thomas proposes that she return to visit her fam

ily at Portsmouth seven years later, Fanny experiences a "deep, heart-swell

ing" happiness.

"The remembrance of all her earliest pleasures, and ofwhat

she had suffered in being torn from them, came over herwith renewed strength,

and it seemed as if to be

at home again, would

heal every pain that had since

grown out of the separation"

(MP 369-70) .4Once Fanny arrives in Portsmouth,

however, she again

feels as

if she does

not

fit in and yearns

Mansfield.

"When she had been coming to Portsmouth she had

to be back

at

...

been fond

of saying that she was going home; theword had been very dear to her; and so

it stillwas, but itmust be applied toMansfield. Thatwas now the home. Ports

mouth was Portsmouth; Mansfield was home" (MP 431). Home for Fanny is

always elsewhere, the place where she is not. Although

she does appear

fi

nally to gain stability and contentment when

she returns toMansfield

and

marries Edmund Bertram, theMansfield

of the novel's

conclusion, as Nina

Auerbach

notes,

"bears

little resemblance

to

the

place

in which

she

grew

up,"

since many of its original inhabitants have fled or been banished ("Jane Austen's

Dangerous

Charm"

217).

Austen's

heroines

desire

and

value

a

sense

of

be

longing to a particular place precisely because they have been uprooted from

their

original

homes,

and

for some

home

remains

an

elusive,

perhaps

unat

tainable goal. Their experiences illustrate JeffreyGray's point that the sense of

home in factarises from displacement:

"origins appear at themoment of their

obliteration, that is at themoment one discovers they are lost."5

Jane Austen herself experienced the alienation and rootlessness of a home

less existence after her family moved from Steventon to Bath when she was

twenty-five and even more so after her father died when she was twenty-nine

and she, her mother, and her sister Cassandra

shuttled for years among rented

lodgings and the residences of various relatives and friends. Ruth Perry be

lieves

that

"Leaving

Steventon

was

the most

traumatic

event

in Jane Austen's

life"; when she heard the news that the family was moving to Bath, Austen is

supposed

to have fainted from shock (49). During

her eight years of semi

nomadic existence Austen wrote little. Itwas only after she was settled

again

at Chawton Cottage on her brother Edward's

estate, with the companionship

of

"the

ever-supportive

Cassandra,"

that

she

resumed

her

literary

activities

(Perry 48). The sense of a stable home and routine apparently was essential to

Home, Exile, and Wanderlust inAusten and theRomantic Poets

93

Austen as an artist, and the pain of displacement she experienced is reflected,

according to Perry, "by the obsessiveness with which

she wrote

about

[this

theme] in her novels"

(49). Claire Tomalin

believes

that the move

from

Steventon to Bath in 1801was

one of a series of dislocations Austen experi

enced in her life, the firstof which was being sent away from home to nurse

when she was an infant and the second being sent to school when she was

seven

years

old.

As

a result,

Tomalin

argues,

Austen

developed

"terrors

about

banishment and exile" thatwere further exacerbated by the expulsion from

her childhood home and period of living in borrowed, temporary residences

(173).

Austen's personal experience with displacement and alienation fromhome

and family parallels those of many other Romantic

writers. Wordsworth

lost

his mother when he was eight and his fatherwhen he was thirteen and as a

resultwas also separated from his beloved sister Dorothy. As young adults he

and Dorothy fantasized about making a home together. As

Jane Pollard

in 1787, she and William

"always finish our

Dorothy wrote to .

conversations

.

.

with wishing we they did realize

had a fatherand a home" (Wordsworth, Letters 5). Eventually

their dream of setting up housekeeping

in Dove

Cottage, a

return to family and regional origins thatWordsworth

ecstatically celebrates

in Home

at Grasmere.

"And

now

'tismine

for

life: dear

Vale,"

he writes,

"One

of

thy lowly

dwellings

is my home!"

(52-53).6 He also declares that "I am safe"

and calls upon the landscape

to "Embrace me then, ye Hills, and

close me

in"

(74, 129), relishing the security of a stable, sheltering "retreat" (167). In The

Prelude, Wordsworth describes his resettlement in the Lake District after a

pe

riod of wandering

in London and France as marking the beginning of his seri

ous literary career, and indeed Wordsworth's major writing took place after

he established a home with his sister in Racedown, Alfoxden, and finally

Grasmere.

Like

Austen,

Wordsworth

suffered

acutely

from

a

sense

of disloca

tion and required a settled home with a supportive sister forhis writing. Like

Austen

too, Wordsworth

Englishness;

as

national park'"

Eric

Kelsall

(38).

has

come

to

notes,

"Dove

be considered Cottage is now

a

poet of

place and

a national

shrine

of

in a

Also

like Austen, however, Wordsworth's work remains haunted by a fear

of disruption

and

an

uneasy

sense

that home

may

be precarious

or unattain

able. Vagrants, beggars, and people displaced

by war, industrialism, or other

upheavals ofmodern

life populate his poetry, along with ruined cottages and

crumbling cathedrals.7 In "The Brothers," a character is thwarted in his desire

to return home, as Leonard comes back to his native region intending to settle

there, but when he learns that his brother has died, he abandons

this plan and

resumes

his

life

as

clares, "Composed

a wandering

seaman.

An

1826 poem

was,

as

the

when

a probability existed of our being obliged

title

de

to quit

94 BethLau

Rydal Mount as a residence." Even in this latework Wordsworth, like one of

Austen's heroines, feels precarious in a home he does not own and fears being

evicted. Ted Underwood

notes Wordsworth's

insecurity and physical displacement,"

shaped

"recurring sense of economic in part by the early loss of his

parents, so that "Even after settling in Grasmere, and after his long-deferred

inheritance materialized

in 1802, Wordsworth's

sense of rootlessness faded

slowly." On one level, Underwood

more palpable

ever provide"

sort of permanence

(112).8

writes, Wordsworth felt "a longing for a

than a literary life in rented houses could

Coleridge

lost his fatherwhen he was

eight years old and afterward was

sent to school in London, where as "Frost at Midnight" explains he yearned

forhis family and native village. Coleridge's

poetry persistently expresses the

horror of exile and alienation from home and family, from the existential iso

lation of theAncient Mariner, to "The Wanderings of Cain," to the "littlechild"

in "Dejection," "Upon a lonesome wild, / Not far from home, but she hath

losther way: /And now moans low inbitter grief and fear, /And now screams

loud, and hopes tomake her mother hear" (121-25). In his book The Lost Trav

elers, Bernard Blackstone titles his chapter on Coleridge "Little Boy Lost" and

argues that Coleridge persistentiy develops

this theme, often "in curious liai

son with the type of Cain. The two together add up to the archetype of the

Prodigal Son: the child who has murdered his own image" (143).

Keats,

like Wordsworth, was orphaned by

the time he was fourteen and

was

also

separated

from his

siblings,

especially

his

sister,

as

a

result.

poem, "To My Brothers," expresses his delight at being reunited with

His

early

his broth

ers under one roof; W.

J. Bate says the sonnet

"suggests the deep need

for

home

always

present

...

in Keats"

(109).

Leon

Waldoff

argues

that Keats's

early experiences with the loss of his parents induced in him a separation

anxiety, expressed most

frequently inhis poetry by depictions of elusive, van

ishing immortalwomen (25-31, 89-91). Keats also frequently depicts the anxi

ety and discomfort of exile, as in the plaintive

image of Ruth standing "in

tears amid the alien corn" in "Ode to a Nightingale,"

which, along with

the

thought

his

of barren "faery lands forlorn," induces the speaker to return from

journey

(66, 70,

72). Indeed, many

of Keats's

poems,

from

visionary

Endymion, to the odes, to "Lamia," where Lycius grows tired of dwelling apart

from society

to escape

or

in Lamia's fairypalace, develop transcend the familiar world,

the pattern

followed by

of an initial impulse

a recognition of the

drawbacks

of

an

alienated

existence

in an

immortal,

timeless

realm,

to

a

re

newed appreciation of and return home. Jack Stillinger, who argues that this

pattern

othy

is central

to Keats's

in TheWizard ofOz ?

major

poems,

parallels

the

lesson

"There's no place

like home" ?

learned

by

Dor

to the one Keats's

speakers come to embrace (102). Significantly, during his final illness Keats

Home, Exile, and Wanderlust inAusten and theRomantic Poets

95

expressed his horror at the prospect of traveling to Italy forhis health, dread

ing the exile from home and loved ones this journey entailed.9

Even Byron, commonly considered the poet of travel and cosmopolitanism

par excellence, conveys a nostalgia

for home

and

a sense of the heartache

of

exile. Like the other Romantic poets cited above, Byron lost a parent as a child

and experienced disruption from home when he became Lord Byron at age

ten and leftScotland for England. Byron's firstvolume of poetry, Hours of Idle

ness, contains threeworks ("When I Roved a Young Highlander," "Lachin Y

Gair," and "IWould IWere a Careless Child") inwhich the speaker yearns for

his Scottish homeland. The collection also includes two poems nostalgically

recalling happy days at Harrow school ("On a Distant View of the Village and

School of Harrow on the Hill" and "Lines Written Beneath an Elm in the

Churchyard of Harrow"),

as well as two elegiac poems on Newstead Abbey.

In one ("Elegy on Newstead

Abbey")

the speaker laments the buildings

di

lapidated condition and decline from its earlier glory, and in the other ("On

Leaving Newstead Abbey") he expresses sorrow at having to leave the home

of his ancestors and hopes eventually to "mingle his dust" with theirs (32).

The fact that so many of Byron's early poems convey a sense of painful sepa

ration from home and a yearning to return, as well as portraying the home in

a ruined

state,

suggest

Wordsworth,

Coleridge,

that

these were

and

Keats.10

"

resonant

themes

In ChildeHarolds Pilgrimage, the

vagrant

Childe"

for him

as

for Austen,

(Addition to the Preface

of Cantos I and II; Complete Poetical Works 2: 5) rejects his native land and em

braces

a peripatetic

existence,

but

he

also

is described

as

a

type

of Cain,

cursed

with "that settled, ceaseless gloom / The fabled Hebrew wanderer bore" (1.853

54; see also

1.827). As with Coleridge's,

Byron's allusion

to Cain represents

travel as punishment and unwanted exile. In Canto I, Byron directly alludes to "

Coleridge's

alienated Ancient Mariner with the lines,

'And now

I'm in the

world alone, / Upon

the wide,

wide

sea"

(182-83).u In Canto III, Byron seem

ingly in his own person expresses grief at being separated from his daughter

Ada

as he leaves

England for good (3.1-18,1067-1102). Even the cosmopolitan,

picaresque Don Juan concludes

in England,

detach himself from his native land. Kelsall

suggesting Byron's inability to calls the English cantos of Don

Juan Byron's "home thoughts from abroad" and suggests theymight be re named "Home at Newstead" (41).12

Instead of differing from themale Romantic poets in her appreciation of

home, Austen shares this emphasis with them, probably in part as a result of

their similar experiences with displacement and the deaths of parents. Their

personal

writers'

backgrounds,

sensitivity

to

however,

the

themes

do

not wholly

of

exile

and

account

for

these

Romantic

alienation.

Their

works

also

re

96 BethLau

fleet anxieties about major developments of the age: the increased physical

and social mobility brought about by industrialism, war, colonialism, and tour

ism and the erosion of traditional hierarchies brought about by new ideolo

gies of democracy, meritocracy, and individualism. As William Walling notes,

Austen's

novels

are

concerned

with

"the accelerations

of her

time,"

and works

such as Emma and especially Mansfield Park embrace stasis

and resist "the threat

of various kinds of acceleration to a closed world"

(335, 337).

Austen does not consistently resistmotion and idealize stability, however.

Ifher heroines often yearn for a settled residence they also

experience the op

posite ill: a sense of home as claustrophobic, stifling confinement and a long

ing for travel and expanded horizons. Marianne Dashwood finds the society

of theMiddletons and their circle dull and oppressive, and she aspires to a

more active existence free from the constraints of female decorum, inwhich

she could run down hills and enjoy "the delight of a gallop" on horseback

(S&S 58).

Indeed, Nina Auerbach claims that "Marianne's movement in the

novel is one long fight for escape from the functional prison of Barton Cot

tage" ("Jane Austen and Imprisonment" 24). Elizabeth Bennet is elated at the

prospect of a journey to the Lake District, which will

release her from the

tiresome company of her mother and younger sisters and the "disappoint

ment and spleen" pervasive at Longbourne

(P&P

volves

leaving

the

family

home

behind

for good

154). Her happy ending in

when

she

relocates

from

Hertfordshire to Pemberley in the north of England; no mention ismade of

any return visits to Longbourne after Elizabeth's marriage to Darcy, and Jane

and Bingley also abandon Netherfield after a year and move north in order to

put more distance between themselves and the Bennet homestead.

Catherine Morland

leaves home to find adventure and romance

in Bath

and Northanger Abbey. Although

she may appear

to succeed,

a number

of

critics have argued thatCatherine's story underscores the oppressive confine

ment ofmost women's

lives. According to this reading, when Catherine imag

ines General Tilney to have

locked up his wife

in a dungeon,

she is appre

hending a legitimate problem forwomen

imprisoned by domestic duties and

rigid codes of female behavior. By accepting Henry Tilney's denunciation of her Gothic tale of the incarcerated wife, moreover, Catherine reinforces her

own subjection by suppressing her legitimate fears and accepting his male

construction of reality,according towhich women are safe in England, "where

every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where

roads and newspapers

lay every thing open"

(NA 197-98). Far from protecting

women, as Paul Morrison

argues, the openness of communication

in England

can be said to operate as a form of "panoptic power" that "reinscribes gothic

claustration in themode

of light or visibility, all themore effectively for es

chewing the obvious mechanisms and paraphernalia of gothic enclosure" (11).13

Home, Exile, and Wanderlust inAusten and theRomantic Poets

97

Even Emma and Mansfield Park, which appear to embrace stasis, contain

elements

that

communicate

an

alternative

restlessness

and

rejection

of

the

closed world of small villages and landed estates. Emma's lively fantasies of

romantic attachments among her friends are in large part the attempts of an

intelligent,healthy young woman to find some outlet forher talents and

ener

gies in a narrow society with few congenial or stimulating companions. As

Mary Burgan notes, "It is clear that boredom is one of the motivating forces in

Emma's

ian

...

adventures

throughout

the novel"

(547).

Her

father,

"a valetudinar

without activity ofmind or body," who

"hat[es] change of every kind"

(Emma 7), is a major cause for the restricted lifeEmma leads. Simply to attend

the Coles's

party

one

evening

she must

make

elaborate

preparations

to

reas

sure her father of her safety and provide him with companions

in her absence

(see volume

2, chapters 7 and

8). More

significantly, Emma

initially believes

that

she

cannot

marry

until

after

her

father's

death,

and

even

when

Mr.

Knightley agrees tomove

into Hartfield, Mr. Woodhouse

at first opposes his

daughter's marriage for the change itwould introduce into his settled exist

ence.14 The claustrophobic

constriction of her

Emma wistfully reflects that she has never seen

miles fromHartfield

(see 101, 352, 367).

life is further conveyed when

the sea or even Box Hill, seven

InMansfield Park, a contrast to Fanny's deep need to remain fixed in one

place and to uphold

traditional customs is supplied by Maria

Bertram, who

seeks

to escape

from

the fenced-in

wilderness

at Sotherton,

crying,

"I cannot

get

out,

as

the starling

said,"

and

who

marries

a man

she

does

not

love

be

cause "She was

less and less able to endure the restraintwhich her father im

posed.

...

She must

escape

from him

and Mansfield

 

as

soon

as possible"

 

(99,

202). Another characterwho

contrasts to Fanny is Mary

Crawford, who tellingly

declares,

 

"I must move

resting

fatigues

me"

(96).

Although

 

these

are

the

characters

the novel

condemns, the

fact

that many

readers

have

found

them

more appealing than the frail and inertheroine suggests some sympathy, con

scious

or unconscious,

Fanny's devotion

on Austen's

part. Moreover,

as mentioned

above,

even

to home

is undermined by the fact that her definition of

what constitutes home repeatedly shifts as reality falls short of her expecta

tions. Moreover,

if she

does

not

travel

extensively

in

a

literal

sense,

Fanny

does ascend in social status when she marries Edmund Bertram and becomes

an accepted, legitimate inhabitant ofMansfield Park rather than a marginalized,

barely tolerated guest. Her brother, who sails around theworld with the Brit

ish Navy, turns out better than either of the novel's eldest sons of landowners,

Tom Bertram and Henry Crawford, the latterof whom envies William his tales

of action and adventure and briefly regrets "his own habits of selfish indul

gence" (236). The conclusion of the novel declares that the middle-class, hard

working and aspiring Prices are morally superior to their socially advantaged

98 BethLau

cousins (see 473). In this sense, Fanny, William, and Susan Price can be consid

ered more industrious and mobile than the idle, complacent gentry class. In

addition,

Mansfield Park, which supposedly

represents

estate, is economically supported

by Sir Thomas's

sugar

the traditional landed

plantation in Antigua

and is therefore itself associated with remote lands and imperialist expan

sion.15 In all of these respects, Mansfield Parks apparent rejection of "the accel

erations of [Austen's] time," inWalsh's terms, is qualified and complicated.

The novel thatmost fully conveys Austen's embrace of travel and mobility

and the new

social conditions these signify isPersuasion. When Anne is forced

to leave her

father's home she is initially distressed, and the day the family

vacates the premises she walks

to Lady Russell's Lodge

"in a sort of desolate

tranquillity" (36). Perhaps

like Austen

she laments her expulsion from her

childhood home and anticipates with dismay staying with Lady Russell, her

sister Mary at Uppercross Cottage, and her fatherand sister Elizabeth in rented

rooms in Bath. In this novel, however, exile from home proves liberating. Even

during the visit with

her querulous

sister Mary, Anne's

"spirits improved by

change of place and

subject, by being removed threemiles

from Kellynch"

(46). When

she travels to Lyme Regis, Anne's

spirits revive even further, and

her bloom, which seemed lost during the long period following the dissolu

tion of her engagement to Wentworth,

is restored. In Bath, where Captain

Wentworth renews his addresses, Anne

is fully rejuvenated to a state of "joy,

senseless joy" (168). Persuasion makes explicit the fact thatmost women

suffer

from excessive confinement and benefit from travel and activity. Anne's de

pression after the break-up with Wentworth

"she had

been too dependant on time alone"

given

in change

of

place

...

or

any

novelty

is exacerbated by the fact that

to forget him; "no aid had been

or enlargement

of society"

(28).

Captain Wentworth, by contrast, suffered less acutely than Anne because he

was

able to go to sea and

distract himself with work and a change of scene (see

65). As Anne later tells Captain Harville, women

suffer from disappointment

in

love

more

than men

feelings

prey

upon us."

because

"We

live

at home,

Men,

by contrast,

can

travel

quiet,

freely

confined,

and

and

"continual

our

oc

cupation and change soon weaken [painful] impressions" (232).

Even Mary Musgrove's

trying temper results in large part from the con

finement and monotony of her married

life.Her spirits improve when she is

able to spend a fortnight at Lyme Regis, supposedly helping to care forLouisa

but actually enjoying herselfwith new sights and activities (129-30), and after

she

persuades Charles to let her come with him and his family to Bath, she is

"in excellent spirits, enjoying the gaiety and the change" (219).16 Mrs. Croft

makes

clear

the connection

stasis

and

depression,

ment

for women.

Mrs.

Croft

between is a "great

traveller,"

having

four

times,

and

been

once

to

the East

Indies,

and

 

travel

and

content

"crossed

the Atlantic

back

again

besides

Home,

Exile, and Wanderlust inAusten and theRomantic Poets

99

being

indifferent places about home ?

Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar" with

her husband theAdmiral (70). She is perfectly comfortable on board a ship; by

contr