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October 09, 2008

Scaling Journeys

One of the main things that's been playing on my mind recently is how I'm going to structure the rest of my thesis- rather understandable given that I've just finished my first year, and my second chapter, so knowing what I'm moving onto next would be quite helpful! I've always had a general sense of where it's going, of course, but the parameters of exactly what each chapter will focus on have shifted around as I've progressed- although I'm surprised at how close to my original proposal my thesis is, in many ways, staying. My initial concept of the structure (well, the plan that got me through my first-year upgrade!) was that I'd consider journeys on an increasing spatial scale: walking journeys ; walking around cities (in England); journeys within England, by different modes of transport (not walking); and finally, journeys between Britain and Europe. A kind of outwards expansion from the small-scale travel implied by walking, to larger-scale movements across the continent (but specifically only within the continent rather than to imperialised spaces further afield).

But I think this has now shifted and the theories I'm formulating are demanding a movement through different types of transport- again starting with walking, moving onto carriage/coach journeys, before considering the monumental changes involved in railway journeys. It's still not a perfect system to divide the thesis by- what about journeys that involve more than one mode of transport, for example? But overall, this structure seems to better fit the themes that are emerging in the early stages of theorisation- a sense of different modes of embodiment and relationships to spatiality according to the type of journey, and the different material realities of movement and discourses of travel that each mode of transport entails. I think the original structuring will still have a place- walking journeys, for example, operating within regional, national, and inter-national contexts will all entail different spatial relations, but this will contribute to a theorisation that is, I hope, more attentive to the intricacies and nuances of journey spatialities. I think as well, it'll enable discussion of "scale" in its geographical sense to be discussed with a greater sense of fluidity and movement, thereby reflecting the concepts of scale I'm working with.

woman walking

Yet even with the clear-cut structure whereby different chapters focus on different journeys, there is still quite a fundamental question underlying my decisions on what to discuss: what is a journey? That is, what counts as a journey? Is every act of walking to be considered a "journey"? Nineteenth-century novels are forever telling of short walks that the characters make: from Jane Austen to George Eliot, families are always walking between the big country houses to visit their neighbours; Dickens' Londoners make numerous journeys on foot, avoiding the busy traffic of the streets. Are these all, always journeys? Are they comparable to the walks undertaken across much greater distances on the Continent- the travail of Mr Peggotty in search of his daughter, the Dorrits' ascent up and across the Swiss Alps, David Copperfield's lone wanderings around Europe? From a feminist perspective, Rebecca Solnit has argued that the shorter walks in and around England are of great significance- in novels like Pride and Prejudice walking is typically a female pursuit, "both socially and spatially the widest latitude available to women contained within these social strictures, the activity in which they find a chance to exert body and imagination" (Wanderlust, p.97). What about, then, interior walking: movement through domestic spaces? Are the "pedestrian feats" of David Copperfield's Aunt Trotwood to be considered- the woman who, when "particularly discomposed" paces up and down the room for hours at a time so that she "must have walked, at various times, a hundred miles in her uncertainty" (p.606), and thus the "amount of discomposure might always be estimated by the duration of her walk" (p.564).

As always, I suppose, it's a matter merely of interpretation as to what's regarded as important and useful for the thesis- which means careful reading and re-reading of every novel so as not to miss so much as a footstep.

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