Introduction: North, South, East — and West; The Strangeness of ‘Debateable Lands’

  • Susan Oliver


The first years of the nineteenth century constituted a period in which many political and cultural borders across the world were being contested and redrawn, particularly within Europe and Europe’s expanding sphere of influence in the Near East. Whilst the contributory factors behind these changes were many, the main reasons for instability were global war, revolution, and modernization of social and economic structures, themselves rooted in developments in science, agriculture, industry and commerce across the eighteenth century. Within Britain, the French Revolution and involvement in the subsequent Napoleonic wars gave rise on the one hand to fears of invasion, and, on the other, to a considerable degree of public anxiety about social unrest within the home nation. At the margins where Europe bordered on the Islamic Near and Middle East, the European ‘superpowers’ of Britain, France, Russia and Austria all used a combination of diplomacy and aggression to establish their interest in the countries along the western frontiers of the declining Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, at home in intellectual circles, approaches to understanding human social history in terms of a series of universally applicable stages, and the new science of political economy, had emerged from the Scottish Enlightenment as areas at the forefront of philosophical and scientific debate. Within such a context of confrontation and public discussion, it is hardly surprising that literary conceptualizations of real and imagined borders of varying kinds, along with speculation premised on the possibilities arising for their confrontation and transgression, became part of the spirit of the age.


Eighteenth Century Early Nineteenth Century Liminal Space Cultural Border Cultural Encounter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Thomas Percy, ‘An Essay on the Ancient Minstrels in England’, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. Consisting of Old Heroic Ballads, Songs, and Other Pieces of Our Earlier Poets, Together with Some Few of Later Date, 4th edn (London: John Nichols for F. & C. Rivington, 1794), pp. li-liii.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Scott’s note to canto 6 of The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Scott, The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott, ed. J. Logie Robertson (London: Oxford UP, 1917), p. 85. The ‘Debateable Land’ was a tract of desolate moorland and marsh along the Scottish Border with England. Comprising much of Liddesdale, it was inhabited by cattle farmers and rustlers, was ‘so called because it was claimed by both Kingdoms’ and was subject to depredations by both sides. Finally, it was divided ‘by commissioners’ between the two nations towards the end of the seventeenth century.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language: In which the words are deduced from the Originals, and Illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best Writers…, Facsimile edn, 2 vols, vol. 1 (1755; New York: AMS, 1967).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    See Nigel Leask, Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing, 1770–1840 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002), pp. 50–1, for a discussion of antiquarian rhetorics of temporalization, and nineteenth-century attitudes to European and non-European feudalism as factors in societal development. Leask gives examples of writers who employed negative comparative strategies (often with Hellenic Greece) to ‘fossilize’ some exotic cultures in a ‘non-progressive past’.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Byron’s draft of his proposed joint review with Hobhouse of William Martin Leake’s Researches in Greece (for the Edinburgh Review) contains a page of comment on British interest in territorial expansion. The review was not submitted for publication. Hobhouse wrote the article that the Edinburgh published. Byron, The Complete Miscellaneous Prose, ed. Andrew Nicholson (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991), pp. 49–50, 320 n. 1 and 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 8.
    Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997), pp. 101, 115–16.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    See Marilyn Butler, ‘Antiquarianism (Popular)’, An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age: British Culture 1776–1832. General editor Iain McCalman (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999), pp. 328–38.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, 1937, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (London: Merlin, 1962), pp. 19, 30–7.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Duncan Forbes, ‘The Rationalism of Sir Walter Scott’, The Cambridge Journal, VII, 7 (1953) 20–5.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Duncan Forbes, ‘“Scientific” Whiggism: Adam Smith and John Millar’, The Cambridge Journal, VII, 11 (1954) 643–70.Google Scholar
  11. For a specific study of Scott’s grounding in Scottish Enlightenment Historical thought, see P. D. Garside, ‘Scott and the “Philosophical” Historians’, Journal of the History of Ideas, XXXVI, 3 (July-September 1975) 497–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 18.
    Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 162.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    Ibid., p. 163, and Bhabha, ed., Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990), p. 313.Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    Robert Burns, The Merry Muses of Caledonia, ed. James Barke and Sydney Goodsir Smith, with a prefatory note and some authentic Burns texts contributed by J. DeLancey Ferguson (London: W. H. Allen, 1965); Bawdy Verse and Tolksongs, Written and Collected by Robert Bums, intro. Magnus Magnusson (London: Macmillan, 1982). The Merry Muses of Caledonia was first printed in 1800, after Burns’ death.Google Scholar
  15. 22.
    See T. C. Smout, A History of the Scottish People 1560–1830 (1969; London: Fontana, 1998), pp. 391–402.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    Walter Scott, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, with Notes and Introduction by Sir Walter Scott, ed. T. F. Henderson, 4 vols, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1932), pp. 387, 399.Google Scholar
  17. 27.
    Walter Scott, The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, eds H. J. C. Grierson assisted by Davidson Cook, W. M. Parker and others, 12 vols, vol. 1 (London: Constable & Co., 1932), p. 334.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    Jane Stabler, ‘Byron’s Digressive Journey’, Romantic Geographies: Discourses of Travel 1775–1844, ed. Amanda Gilroy (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000), pp. 223–39.Google Scholar
  19. 31.
    Malcolm Kelsall, Byron’s Politics (Brighton: Harvester Press Ltd, 1987; Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1987), passim.Google Scholar
  20. 34.
    Edward W. Said, Orientalism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978).Google Scholar
  21. 36.
    Said, ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’, Francis Barker et al., Europe and its Others: Proceedings of the Essex Conference on the Sociology of Literature, July 1984 (Colchester: U of Essex, 1984), p. 14.Google Scholar
  22. 37.
    Said, Culture and Imperialism(London: Vintage, 1993), p. xiii.Google Scholar
  23. 39.
    John Barrell, The Infection of Thomas De Quincey: A Psychopathology of Imperialism (New Haven: Yale UP, 1991), pp. 1–24. ‘This/that/the other’ is the title of Barrell’s introduction. These categories are anticipated in Scott’s and Byron’s poetry, although the notions of otherness do not involve the same degrees of horror that are so clearly present in De Quincey’s writing.Google Scholar
  24. 40.
    Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak’, Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory, ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1993), pp. 66–111.Google Scholar
  25. 41.
    Nelson Moe, The View from Vesuvius (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 2002).Google Scholar
  26. 44.
    Caroline Franklin, Byron’s Heroines (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992), pp. 12–37, shows Scott’s heroines to be a precursor for the passive heroines of Byron’s Eastern Tales.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jennifer Wallace, in Shelley and Greece: Rethinking Romantic Hellenism (London: Macmillan, 1997), pp. 132–3, exposes Byron’s apparent sexual liberalism as, ultimately, an inscription of dominant masculine conventions. As Wallace points out, Byron’s poetry asserts its own bounds of patriarchal behaviour in its ‘pursuit of the male heroic identity’. Byron emerges as rather closer to Scott in this respect than the politics of the two writers might suggest.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Susan Oliver 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan Oliver

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations