Travel, taste and tourism in Southey’s letters from England (1807)

2020-03-06T11:27:29Z (GMT) by Carol Bolton
This essay focuses on Robert Southey’s account of a walking tour of the Lake District in Letters from England: By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (1807), to demonstrate how this region became a contested site in the early nineteenth century. While his eponymous Spanish traveller enthusiastically embraces the “new science” of aesthetics and guide-book strategies to describe its topography, we see Southey undermining these linguistic techniques to criticise the impact of tourism on the Lakes. The inclusion of Southey’s more knowing interpolations on his domicile and the use of narrative constructs from travel-writing and romance genres are also employed to critique established views of the Lake District. Southey’s intention was to present an authentic version of the Lakes that would compete with other published ‘guides’, but instead his account (and his dual-voiced narrator) questions the meanings of realism, art, and nature. In fact his erosion of the truth and objectivity that guide-books sought to establish puts his authority and those of his fellow authors into doubt, making this a most Romantic text in its controversial engagement with the nature of reality.