Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-dfw9g Total loading time: 0.719 Render date: 2022-08-12T11:14:07.088Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

82 - Sublime

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Sharon Ouditt
Affiliation:
Nottingham Trent University.
Get access

Summary

The term ‘sublime’, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) tells us, means ‘lofty’, ‘high up’ or ‘elevated’. More specifically it applies to ‘that quality in nature or art’ ‘that fills the mind with an overwhelming sense of grandeur or irresistible power’ (OED). In travel texts the sublime is often associated with an encounter with a natural phenomenon that stretches the observer's powers of imaginative comprehension to their very limits. As Philip Shaw (2006, 2) puts it, ‘[W] henever experience slips out of conventional understanding, whenever the power of an object or event is such that words fail and points of comparison disappear, then we resort to the feeling of the sublime.’ Majestic mountain scenery, limitless oceans and vast, solitary deserts invoke the sublime, particularly in the Romantic period when the response of the individual traveller was often seen to be a marker of the authenticity of the journey. In the present day awe and wonder remain part of the traveller's currency, although they are often reformulated into a postmodern take on sublimity.

Although the term had been present since ancient times (see, e.g., Chard 1999, 111), it was in the eighteenth century that Edmund Burke (1958) gave it the aesthetic dimension with which we continue to associate it. He proposed that the aesthetic emotion engendered by an encounter with the sublime in nature is astonishment held in suspension by a degree of horror that precludes all other rational activity: ‘In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object that it cannot entertain any other’ (57). This state of being, associated with silence, melancholy, power and strength, is to be distinguished from the languorous pleasantness of beauty in nature, and from the picturesque, which lacks the terror associated with the sublime. These terms were central to the perceptions of travellers in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the implied gendering is not to be underestimated: the masculine connotations of the sublime were inextricable from the image of the indefatigable, questing male.

The Romantic travellers most associated with these qualities are Byron, Coleridge, Shelley and Wordsworth. To these we might add Captain Cook, Joseph Banks and the ‘visionary’ traveller and collector William Beckford. Wordsworth is perhaps the most determined to articulate the effect of the sublime, not just on the mind of the traveller but also on the consciousness of the poet.

Type
Chapter
Information
Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 241 - 243
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×