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Romanticism and the Question of the Stranger

In our post-9/11 world, the figure of the stranger—the foreigner, the enemy, the unknown visitor—carries a particular urgency, and the force of language used to describe those who are “different” has become particularly strong. But arguments about the stranger are not unique to our time. In Romanticism and the Question of the Stranger, David Simpson locates the figure of the stranger and the rhetoric of strangeness in romanticism and places them in a tradition that extends from antiquity to today.
Simpson shows that debates about strangers loomed large in the French Republic of the 1790s, resulting in heated discourse that weighed who was to be welcomed and who was to be proscribed as dangerous. Placing this debate in the context of classical, biblical, and other later writings, he identifies a persistent difficulty in controlling the play between the despised and the desired. He examines the stranger as found in the works of Coleridge, Austen, Scott, and Southey, as well as in depictions of the betrayals of hospitality in the literature of slavery and exploration—as in Mungo Park’s Travels and Stedman’s Narrative—and portrayals of strange women in de Staël, Rousseau, and Burney. Contributing to a rich strain of thinking about the stranger that includes interventions by Ricoeur and Derrida, Romanticism and the Question of the Stranger reveals the complex history of encounters with alien figures and our continued struggles with romantic concerns about the unknown.

288 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, General Criticism and Critical Theory


“Simpson makes for an expert guide, his deft and dynamic analysis forging unexpected pathways through the familiar terrain of Romantic writing, and his notion of the stranger supplying an illuminating new lens through which to re-perceive the Romantic canon. Where the book excels, though, is in its quietly insistent sense of the pertinence of Romantic writing and the conviction with which it makes its case for the Romantic claim to modernity. . . . This is an unusual book, sometimes odd, always rewarding, illuminating in its analysis and dexterous in its range. . . . It is the kind of book that encourages the reader’s speculations to stray from home, extending in directions beyond its own Romantic literary remit. As Simpson’s provocative readings illustrate, the question of the stranger might concern not only those mysterious others whom we hold off at the hearth but also that which we refuse to recognise within.”

Times Higher Education Book of the Week

“Stunning in its breadth and bold in its implications. . . . A compelling and, it is worth saying, hopeful work.”

Studies in Romanticism

“A serious and impressive piece of scholarly criticism, with breadth and ambition, but also an admirable underpinning coherence.”

Year’s Work in English Studies

Romanticism and the Question of the Stranger is a wonderfully engaged and engaging book. Compelling and elegant at every turn, it is widely and deeply informed, addressing an enormous and varied Romantic archive while also demonstrating a masterful grasp of contemporary theoretical discussions about strangers and strangeness. A searching and felicitous intelligence quickens the project from its expansive beginning to its deeply moving conclusion. Written with uncommon purposiveness, David Simpson’s powerfully realized book may be rooted in Romanticism but it tells a history of vexed encounters with others through which we are still living.”

David Clark, McMaster University

“With his astonishing range of reference, David Simpson offers a powerful literary history and theory of ‘the stranger syndrome,’ the subtle dialectic of hostility and hospitality in Romanticism and its early-twenty-first-century afterlife. Romanticism and the Question of the Stranger encompasses the wide and eclectic field of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century writing, not just the authors and texts most often associated with the period. In examples both surprising and revelatory, Simpson’s study also reveals the ubiquity and variety of the stranger, who appears not only in the form of alien persons but also in less obvious guises: in practices of translation between languages, attempts at religious conversion, footnotes and other paratext, metaphor, and the nature of literary language itself. As in his earlier work, Simpson writes at once as a prominent literary scholar and an incisive public intellectual, and in both capacities, he issues a forceful warning against failing to ‘reckon with the stranger,’ whether by acts of exclusion, by making distinctions and patrolling their boundaries, or by suspecting the stranger from outside while failing to recognize the strangeness and estrangement inside—within the self, home, or homeland.”

Kevis Goodman, University of California, Berkeley

Table of Contents

Introduction: After9/11: The Ubiquity of Others

1. Theorizing Strangers: A Very Long Romanticism
2. Hearth and Home: Coleridge, De Quincey, Austen
3. Friends and Enemies in Walter Scott’s Crusader Novels
4. Small Print and Wide Horizons
5. Strange Words: The Call to Translation
6. Hands across the Ocean: Slavery and Sociability
7. Strange Women


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