Fictive domains: Nostalgic constructions of body and landscape in the eighteenth century

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Tassie Gwilliam - Committee Chair


In 1688 Johannes Hofer coined the term nostalgia to describe a cluster of physical symptoms resulting from homesickness. Nostalgia shifted from a medical to a cultural register in response to accelerated social change and increasing social instability. Cultural nostalgia attached itself to representations of body and landscape in an attempt to negotiate social contradictions that were becoming increasingly apparent during the course of the eighteenth century.Anxiety about changes in the family, in the appearance and ownership of land, and in social mobility surfaced in cultural nostalgia. Through the growth of domestic ideology, and the increasing separation of public and private spheres, the burden of tradition and nostalgia was assigned to the bodies of women. The gendered body is examined in Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady (1748) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753--4).Because the female body is often linked to a body of land, that relationship is examined in Alexander Pope's "Eloisa to Abelard" (1717) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloise (1761), in which Eloisa's imprisonment in a convent evolves into Julie's prison of domesticity and superior moral virtue. The nostalgia of the picturesque is explored in Alexander Pope's "Windsor Forest" (1713), and Oliver Goldsmith's "The Revolution in Low Life" (1762), The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), and The Deserted Village (1770). Feminine nostalgia is considered in Sarah Scott's A Description of Millenium Hall, and the Country Adjacent (1762).The cultural constructions of body and landscape produced by the sentimental and the picturesque reinforced nostalgia, a construction that responds to its specific moment in history. The disease of homesickness that Hofer called nostalgia was readily adapted to a cultural concept of loss that pervaded the eighteenth century. Cultural nostalgia is an attempt to assuage that anxiety through aesthetic production that offers wholeness and permanence while masking social contradictions.


Literature, Romance; Literature, English

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