Romanticism is, perhaps, one of the movements in literary history most closely identified with itinerancy, and one of the first to bear the mark of a cosmopolitan, trans-national attitude that eschewed the confining nature of borders. Of the Big Six, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Byron are best known for their travels, but Coleridge and Keats also moved around quite frequently, even if they remained largely within the confines of England. But all across the nation, the Romantic age was dominated first by the Revolutionary Wars, then by the Napoleonic Wars, which eventually escalated to the dimensions of a world war (Curran 637). Because of this upheaval, Stuart Curran argues, “displacement as abiding notion” became “the norm rather than the anomaly for this period” (637). Romanticism thus “created an entire literature of displacement,” its figures “unconnected, atomized, aim-less: placeless” (638, 644). Nostalgia became a common pattern in Romantic literature as a result; indeed, although the word “nostalgia” was not widely used until the twentieth century, it actually first appeared in England in 1787, in medical reports about a Welsh soldier suffering from homesickness (Austin 75). This nostalgia, however, had a slightly different meaning at the end of the eighteenth century than it does today. It was a medical phenomenon, a “disease of displacement” defined by Erasmus Darwin as “an unconquerable desire of returning to one’s native country, frequent in long voyages” (Goodman, “Romantic Poetry” 200-201). Wordsworth is the poet most closely associated with this kind of nostalgic homesickness, from his depictions of children in poems such as “We are Seven” and “Lucy Gray” (Austin), to his “closeted clinical nostalgics,” such as the protagonists of “The Brothers” and the narrator of “The Thorn,” developed throughout the Lyrical Ballads (Goodman, “Romantic Poetry”). Yet nostalgia quickly developed from a medical condition to a “cultural aesthetic,” a “way of producing and consuming the past” that has become “irrevocably associated with sentimentality” (Goodman, “Uncertain Diseases” 201).1 This sentimentality is still often associated with ideas of home and homesickness, but issues of home and belonging have heretofore been pushed aside by the scholarship, even though the word “nostalgia” comes from the Greek words nostos (homecoming) and algos (pain).
Heffner, Samantha, "Homeward Bound: Wordsworth, Shelley, and the Nostalgic Search for Home" (2016). Undergraduate Student Research Awards. 32.