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Unnationalized Englishmen in Mary Shelley's Fiction[Notice]

  • William D. Brewer

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  • William D. Brewer
    Appalachian State University

The title-character of Mary Shelley's novel Lodore (1835), a British aristocrat, begins his Grand Tour of Europe at the age of nineteen: Lodore is one of several young Englishmen in Shelley's fiction who go abroad, become 'unnationalized,' and then find reassimilation into their native cultures difficult if not impossible. She considers the controversy over the advantages and disadvantages of the Grand Tour in the first part of Lodore; she explores the consequences of prolonged global travel in Mathilda (written 1819), and her last novel, Falkner (1837), examines the formative influence of Indian culture on a young English soldier. In this essay, I will argue that these characters reflect her concern about the effects of travel on impressionable young Englishmen, particularly travel outside of Western Europe. During the eighteenth century English tourism boomed, and more and more Englishmen became involved in the lucrative trade with India and, later, its colonization. This increased contact with other cultures provoked both cosmopolitan and xenophobic responses. Travel provided educational opportunities; it also, in the view of some critics, presented vulnerable (and inadequately supervised) young men with innumerable temptations. They could waste time and money gambling and drinking, frequent brothels, contract venereal disease, or marry against their family's wishes. Of course, they could do the same things in England, but xenophobic commentators believed that there were more corrupting influences and opportunities for misconduct on the continent. Opinions were similarly divided regarding the customs and religious beliefs of the various cultures that English merchants, soldiers, and missionaries encountered in India. For example, while the famous orientalist William Jones presents a sympathetic portrait of Hindu morality, Robert Southey's The Curse of Kehama (1810), which begins with a sati, or ritual sacrifice of wives on the funeral pyre of their husband, mounts an Evangelical Christian critique of Hinduism. This essay will examine the ways in which Shelley incorporates these cultural debates into her fiction. Lodore, Mathilda's unnamed father, and the title-character of Falkner all spend many years abroad, and their exposure to foreign customs and creeds has a profound influence on their behavior and their moral principles. To varying degrees, they are modeled on Lord Byron, whose Grand Tour included such exotic countries as Albania, Greece, and Turkey and who was later ostracized by Regency society because of his putative violation of the incest taboo. They become cultural hybrids, torn between the mores and customs of England and those of foreign cultures. As Jeremy Black observes, while the Grand Tour was intended to '[equip] the traveller socially and [provide] him with useful knowledge and attainments', a number of its critics believed that it was, at best, an expensive waste of time. For example, Thomas Pennant claimed that the English students at the Academy of Geneva The negative effects of Grand Tour could, however, be more serious. Black notes that 'Problems were created when impressionable young men fell in love. Venereal disease was bad, but so was a mesalliance.' Highly-born and wealthy tourists might fall in love with women below them in class or fortune. In some cases, 'Forceful intervention was necessary': Shelley addresses the problem of ill-advised foreign marriages in Lodore, in which Horatio Saville, the son of a nobleman, marries Clorinda, a mentally unstable Italian woman. Horatio is partly, but only superficially, 'Italianized' (L 168) by his wife, who refuses to accompany him to England and torments him with her 'jealous freak[s]'. (L 171) His father, Lord Maristow, admonishes him to return to England: '"your career, your family, your country, must not be sacrificed to her unreasonable folly".' (L 279) Luckily for ...

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