• From Domus to Polis: hybrid identities in Southey’s letters from England (1807) and Blanco White’s letters from Spain (1822)

      Colbert, Benjamin (Taylor and Francis, 2019-02-18)
      Robert Southey’s fictive travelogue, Letters from England, by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (1807), inspired several imitators, most importantly José María Blanco White’s Letters from Spain (1822). These works rejuvenate a fictional device popularised by Montesquieu’s Persian Letters – the “familiar stranger” – at a crucial juncture when British involvement in the affairs of Europe provoked a reassessment of pre-Revolutionary cosmopolitanism. The stranger as “home-interpreter” calls attention to an emerging emphasis in European Romantic thought on the contingency of freedom with hybrid, mobile identities, prefiguring the psycho-social-historical terrain in which Jean-François Lyotard and Dean MacCannell link modernity with travel and tourism. This essay argues that the Romantic figure of the foreign traveller expresses a condition of travel, reflecting Lyotard’s critique of human contingency in his essay, “Domus and Megalopolis.” Southey’s sympathetic stranger modulates a conversation with Wordsworth about the nature of modern subjectivity, historically contingent yet paradoxically liberated from historical particulars. Blanco White’s Letters from Spain demonstrates how displacement, emigration, and expatriation become refigured as conditions of the modern psyche, especially visible in moments of political crisis, when the cosmopolitan polis is immobilised by the myth of the domus.