Penny Fielding. Scotland and the Fictions of Geography: North Britain, 1760-1830. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. ISBN 978-0-521-89514-9. Price: US $99[Notice]

  • Anne Stapleton

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  • Anne Stapleton
    University of Iowa

In Scotland and the Fictions of Geography: North Britain, 1760-1830, Penny Fielding adroitly untangles some of the complex representations of Scotland during the romantic period as she explores the “tensions and instabilities in Scotland’s cultural spatiality” that result from “the very impulse to know the nation in geographical terms” (10). While Fielding’s first four chapters weave together an impressive array of literary, scientific, linguistic, antiquarian, and theoretical texts as she investigates the evolving meaning of the north and North Britain during the Enlightenment, chapter five fruitfully pairs the kenspeckled Walter Scott and less well-known Shetland poet Margaret Chalmers to explore their contemporaneous literature emanating from the northern islands of Scotland. Concluding the monograph, chapter six stretches beyond Scotland’s northern archipelago to the Arctic as Fielding shifts discussion to the “post-Enlightenment author” James Hogg (162) and an “articulation of space…no longer possible through Enlightenment geometries” (183). Fielding’s intellectual analysis of Scotland’s “fictions of geography” (184) and the spatial and stadial boundaries they engage complements other recent additions to the field of Scottish studies, such as Christopher MacLachlan’s edited Crossing the Highland Line: Cross-Currents in Eighteenth-Century Scottish Writing (Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2009); Alexander Moffat and Alan Riach with Linda MacDonald-Lewis’ Arts of Resistance: Poets, Portraits and Landscapes of Modern Scotland (Edinburgh: Luath Press Ltd, 2008); Murray Pittock’s Scottish and Irish Romanticism (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008); Ian Duncan’s Scott’s Shadow: The Novel in Romantic Edinburgh (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007); Evan Gottlieb’s Feeling British: Sympathy and National Identity in Scottish and English Writing, 1707-1832 (Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2007); Kenneth McNeil’s Scotland, Britain, Empire: Writing the Highlands, 1760-1860 (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2007); Ian Brown, Thomas Owen Clancy, Susan Manning, and Murray Pittock’s three-volume edited The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2006); Caroline McCracken-Flesher’s Possible Scotlands: Walter Scott and the Story of Tomorrow (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005); and Leith Davis, Ian Duncan, and Janet Sorenson’s edited Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004). More broadly, Fielding’s work invites a rethinking of the intertwined terms “Romanticism” and “Enlightenment,” not just from the borders or peripheries, where Scotland is often identified, but with a nuanced understanding of the complicated position Scotland represents and constructs—both through conceptualized space and language—in reclaiming its identity as “North Britain.” After a valuable introduction, Fielding turns to eighteenth-century poetry, politics, and progress to reflect upon Scotland’s flexible geography and designation as “North Britain.” She begins with Thomas Gray’s evocation of England as a northern location in “Luna Habitabalis” (13), analyzes how Scotland is viewed both as supplement to and origin for Britain, explores the duality of John Pinkerton’s writings that reveal the north’s geography as scientifically precise yet only legible “by the individual narrations of myth or story” (26), juxtaposes Rousseau’s fixed and Pope’s relative positioning of the north, and ends with Anne Grant’s reassertion of “the dominance of the British north, with Scotland as its locus classicus” (32) in Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen. Fielding suggests that North Britain “is always at least two places at the same time: both Scotland and Britain, an ancient or imaginary space and a modern political force, synecdochal for northernness in general and a singular position generating its own national character” (38-39). In chapter two, “Burns, place, and language,” Fielding looks at romantic notions of creative imagination and topographic function as well as eighteenth-century ideas of location, writing and difference. In so doing, she introduces contemporary debates about climate theory while exploring Enlightenment theories of environmental determinism and analyzes the ways in which Burns toys with the “geometries of space” (50) in a number …

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