‘A hideous and wicked country’: travellers on Cornwall

We all know Cornwall is a picturesque place. In fact, although it is viewed as such now, it wasn’t always seen in that light. The countless images of Cornwall’s cliffs and coastline that are produced and circulated by visitors and locals alike these days would have come as a surprise to the travellers of the early 1800s. They saw its landscape as ‘dreary’ and ‘deformed’. It lacked the essential attributes of fashionable picturesqueness – trees and inland water in the right proportions.

Picturesque Cornwall

Much has been written over the past couple of decades about changing attitudes to Cornish landscapes and the rise of the notion of a picturesque Cornwall. A recent article by Tim Hannigan provides another contribution to this growing academic literature. He details the familiar story of the move towards constructing a ‘different’, non-metropolitan ‘other’, an exotic place of escape and mystery. This imagery, later avidly adopted and then reinforced by twentieth century tourist marketing, is described through the analysis of texts from 1809 to 1907.

Hannigan’s article also adds a more novel reflection on the response of a native writer to outsider travel writing. Instead of seeing native attitudes and travellers’ accounts as necessarily opposites, he suggests there may be a degree of enjoyment in reading accounts of oneself and one’s place as ‘exotic’ or ‘different’. Such ‘auto-exoticization’ implies a degree of collusion between outsiders’ accounts and the reactions to those accounts by insiders, a useful insight.

(For an extended critical review of this article see here.)

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