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Writing from 'the Perilous Ridge': romanticism and the invention of rock climbing

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date10/2013
JournalRomanticism
Journal number3
Volume19
Number of pages15
Pages246-260
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This essay argues that rock climbing had its genesis in the Romantic period and that there was a powerful synergy between the emergent sport and the era’s literature. It was during the Romantic period that clambering on crags, cliffs and ridges started to become an activity undertaken for its own sake and began to provide a subject for literature, developments which I explore in the essay’s first section through an examination of the travel writing of William Bingley and others. In the second section, I argue that the specific embodied experience of rock climbing was integral to the development of a key Romantic trope, visionary power, an issue I consider through readings of two of the period’s greatest first-hand accounts of rock climbing, Wordsworth’s poetic evocation of his scrambling on Yewdale Crags in The Prelude and Coleridge’s epistolary description of his descent of Broad Stand. In the final section of the essay, I investigate how climbing became a feature of some of the era’s most significant as well as best-selling poems and novels, focusing particularly on Walter Scott’s work to show how his writing transformed the image of the climber, shaped the imagining of the nascent sport, and laid the foundation for the remarkable expansion of rock climbing in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Bibliographic note

Copyright © 2013. Edinburgh University Press