Romantic Nationalism and the Indeterminate Narrative in Frances Burney’s The Wanderer
The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties (1814), Frances Burney’s last novel, opens with the flight of a nameless heroine in search of her ‘loved, long lost, and fearfully recovered native land’.  Born in Wales and raised in France, the Wanderer flees to England in the aftermath of the French Revolution, attempting to find a safe haven in a location she has been made to think of as her home only to discover that she is marked as ‘a poor destitute Wanderer’ (p. 49), considered foreign by the insular Englishmen she encounters. Homelessness and the longing for home are central themes in the novel, tying in with the potentials and pitfalls of a rising Romantic nationalism. In juxtaposing prejudices based on ‘memories’ of a national past with personal longings for home, friends, and family, The Wanderer takes up and further conflicts the struggle between self and society that informs Burney’s earlier novels and indeed late-eighteenth-century ‘pre-Romantic’ fiction in general and becomes invested with new possibilities and complications in the full-blown Romantic novel.  With its intriguing exposure of the new nationalist nostalgia of the early nineteenth century, Burney’s last novel casts a different light on the elusive genre of Romantic fiction and the uses (and abuses) of nostalgia by the Romantic nationalisms that are created and critiqued in the literature of the time. The concept of a shared, national, memory is evoked and then dismissed as the dramatic fate of the wandering orphan heroine dismantles ideologies of the homeland. The longing for belonging is instead realised by an alternative ideal community, the chosen family, transcending national borders and nationalist alignments by suggesting a domestic solution to the warring desires of self-fulfilment and social acceptance that plague the Romantic self. This essay sees The Wanderer as a reaction to the nationalist agenda that informs a large number of Romantic novels and as an alternative to Burkean reactions to the French Revolution.
Wholeheartedly endorsing the new nationalist ideology of the homeland, regional novels and national tales, by contrast, attempt to create a communal nostalgia for places that are meant to be exotic to the general reader, while construing memories of something that is familiar, though remote enough to be invested with the allure of the exotic. It has been suggested that Walter Scott creates a Highland Arcadia in Waverley (1814) in which the hero’s ‘romantic reservoir’ lives up to his expectations after all.  In Maria Edgeworth’s Ennui (1809) and The Absentee (1812) and in Lady Morgan’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806), estates in Ireland figure as repositories of down-to-earth attachments and ancient customs, as colonial spaces neglected by absentee landlords, and as the true home, in sharp relief to England, which is represented by the corrupt city of London. In The Absentee, for example, Lord Colambre’s return to ‘his mother earth’ evokes ‘the early associations of his childhood, and the patriotic hopes of his riper years.’  The Wild Irish Girl describes Ireland as ‘a colonised or a conquered country’.  The ‘diminutive body of our worthy steward’ appears to be ‘the abode of the transmigrated soul of some West Indian planter’ (p. 23). Yet the hero’s original bias—his expectation of an ‘Esquimaux group’ (p. 1)—is displaced by his belief that there is ‘no country which the Irish at present resemble but the modern Greeks’ (p. 182). In this land of antiquity, but refreshing climate, Horatio can shed the ‘pining atrophy’ (p. 58) he suffers in London. Like Glenthorn in Edgeworth’s aptly entitled Ennui, Horatio is ‘devoured by ennui, by discontent’ (p. 131) until he rediscovers ‘emotions of a character, an energy, long unknown to [his] apathised feelings’ (p. 45) in a landscape that is exotic and replete with ‘communal’ nostalgia for a new homeland. In these novels, a personal quest coincides with a new patriotism; rebirth with the regeneration of the rediscovered nation. But what is presented as a straightforward alignment in these novels is exposed as conflicted in The Wanderer. The ideal or, in Benedict Anderson’s useful phrase, ‘imagined community’ created by Romantic ideologies of the homeland is not always a viable option—as Burney’s wandering heroine has to discover.  Written in the aftermath of the French Revolution, The Wanderer offers a different interpretation of nationalist ideologies—one that is nonetheless not simply an anti-Jacobin reaction to the excesses of the radical sensibility of the 1790s.  Frances Burney, by that time married to the émigré Constitutionalist Alexandre d’Arblay, had first hand experience of both British and French nationalist xenophobia, and her last novel offers insight into the production of fiction about the French Revolution and the uses of nostalgia at the time.
NATIONALISM AND FICTIONS OF
Nostalgia is not merely a recurring theme and an emotion that is both described in and evoked by the traditional British novel, but it is also appropriated as a strategic device to foster a community of readers. In what has now become a much cited analysis of the origins of nationalism, Benedict Anderson has pointed out the significance of print-culture—and specifically the novel and the newspaper as a ‘device for the presentation of simultaneity’—for the creation of imagined communities.  The Enlightenment, Anderson suggests, brings with it ‘its own modern darkness’, in which the idea of the nation, supported by the ‘English novel’, serves to ensure a ‘secular transformation of fatality into continuity’.  In its focus on the simultaneity of events experienced by a community of readers, British fiction presents a ‘shared’ memory of common experiences that can be used to fill the emotional void left by the retreat, disintegration, or unavailability of real communities and networks.  Thomas Nipperdey has similarly suggested that nationalism is set up as a promise of the re-integration of a community rooted in a ‘common culture’ and thus a product of nostalgia caused by the dissolution of tradition and the concomitant uncertainty and homelessness of the individual.  Nostalgia, as a remarkably flexible as well as creative emotion undergoing significant changes in its definition and use at the time, is deployed in the construction of nationalist ideologies and promoted by the novel—an influential medium with an increasingly widespread readership.
The passing of time and the representation of memory, however, are central to the development of the traditional ‘classic’ novel in more than one way: its use of nostalgia catering for a range of emotional needs and reacting to a changing ideological climate. A retrospective form of narrative and at the same time concerned with the life and emotions of the individual, the novel of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries primarily intends to offer personal, individualised accounts of the past. In his influential study The Rise of the Novel, Ian Watt has already suggested that the classic novel interests itself much more than any other literary form in the development of its characters in the course of time, while it also reflects a ‘growing tendency for individual experience to replace collective tradition’, which—as Ian Watt puts it—similarly forms ‘an important part of the general cultural background of the rise of the novel’.  So far from being contradictory, Watt’s and Anderson’s interpretations of the functions of time and nostalgia in the genre’s early development pinpoint an ambiguity that becomes a central preoccupation in Romantic fiction. In English Fiction of the Romantic Period, Gary Kelly significantly speaks of the villain ‘Society’ as he analyses the conflicting longings for individual self-fulfilment and the creation of a new community or nation in the Romantic period.  This contradiction is already an essential aspect of the ‘pre-Romantic’ cults of sensibility and sentimentalism, as heroes and heroines of feeling advocate a highly individualist focus on their own emotions while simultaneously depending on an ideology of empathy. While this dilemma appears to be solved in self-confidently national or regional fiction, it becomes reactivated in what can be seen as the domestic Romantic fiction of Burney and Austen.
As Romantic nationalism creates an ideology of belonging through the ‘othering’ of those outside the imagined community—on its borders or margins—it has moreover a dual relationship with its counterpart, Romantic orientalism. While the fictional creation of Highland Arcadias or a rediscovered ‘mother earth’ in Ireland plays with the concepts of the exotic while fostering a nation of readers and an awareness of a national history or heritage, descriptions of the ‘other’ also serve to define the borders of the imagined nation. Based on notions of exclusivity as well as containment, the writing of the nation highlights the presence of the ‘other’ as it simultaneously attempts to displace otherness (onto other nations) and to erase it (by subsuming it into an assumed homogeneity). Homesickness and the longing for ‘other’ spaces consequently acquire additional poignancy. In that the literary recreation of such national spaces conjures up places that are meant to be ‘exotic’ to the (English) reader, it undercuts the shared longing for a home or homeland. The ‘nostalgia’ these texts create is therefore more akin to the longing for an exotic site that is central to Romantic orientalism, substituting Fernweh, the longing for the remote, for Heimweh, or homesickness. As Nigel Leask has pointed out, in Romantic literature oriental places ‘displace the Arcadian locus amoenus of neo-classicism from a Mediterranean “Golden Age” to a “contemporary eastern site” ’.  As part of a general idealisation of a remote place this form of nostalgia can become more easily fraudulent and inauthentic. The nostalgic space is often reduced to an ideal topography devoid of any real emotional investment. Recent criticism of European orientalism has amply shown that such a writing of an exotic region or nation tends to distort its representation.  The Wild Irish Girl describes Ireland as ‘a colonised or a conquered country’ (p. 172); and while the novel succeeds in creating sympathy with the colonised as well as the coloniser, the described landscape also reduces it to a contained cosy, exotic space. In The Absentee, this connection between orientalism and the inner colonies is comically exemplified by the ‘picturesque’ decorations at Lady Clonbrony’s gala night, which include a Chinese pagoda, a Turkish tent, and Alhambra hangings (p. 37).
However, while the representation of the ‘other’ in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature has been amply studied ever since Edward Said’s seminal Orientalism (1975) and Culture and Imperialism (1993), the dual function of nostalgia in the fiction of the time has not received the attention it deserves. In an influential postcolonial study of the concepts of ‘otherness’ and hybridity, Homi Bhabha speaks of ‘the heimlich pleasures of the hearth’ that is poised against ‘the unheimlich terror of the space or race of the Other’.  Those ‘who will not be contained within the Heim of the national culture’, Bhabha emphasises with an allusion to Benedict Anderson, ‘articulate the death-in-life of the idea of the ‘imagined community’ of the nation’.  The postcolonial reading of British and European classics—ranging from a focus on Shakespeare’s Caliban and Defoe’s Friday to a reassessment of the ‘postcolonial Jane Austen’—has indeed become standard practice in recent literary criticism.  In her analysis of the ‘Burkean themes of migrant maternity, disinheritance, and sexual improprieties of multinational proportions’ in early-nineteenth-century novels by women writers, Deidre Lynch has suggested that they redeploy Burke’s tropes or themes in a more radical context by marking their heroines as ‘by and large irredeemably hybrid’.  Lynch, however, does not proceed to explore the impact of these alternative narratives of longing and belonging on the writing of nostalgia and the construction of both nationalism and nostalgic places themselves. In a recent eclectic study of nostalgia as a cultural phenomenon, however, Svetlana Boym significantly highlights a crucial difference between personal nostalgia and a nostalgia that has turned political, that has become a state policy: ‘The official memory of the nation-state does not tolerate useless nostalgia, nostalgia for its own sake.’  The Wanderer analyses the effects of longings that have been turned into state policies and their clashes with the heroine’s personal needs and desires, casting a different light on both nationalism and nostalgia.
FOR HOME: CLINICAL
HOMESICKNESS AND ROMANTIC
Dismissively treated as Romantic affectation, nostalgia is a frequently misunderstood emotion and way of remembering. As David Lowenthal has put it, nostalgia is ‘a topic of embarrassment and a term of abuse. Diatribe upon diatribe denounces it as reactionary, repressive, ridiculous’.  According to the OED, nostalgia has two sets of meaning: firstly, having retained its original pathological connotation, it is a ‘form of melancholia caused by prolonged absence from one’s home or country; severe home-sickness’.Secondly, in its transferred usage, it describes ‘[r]egret or sorrowful longing for the conditions of a past age; regretful or wistful memory or recall of an earlier time’. Romantic representations of homesickness, homelessness, and homelands feed on the twofold meanings of nostalgia. The history of nostalgia, specifically its inception as a clinical term to describe homesickness, is moreover inseparable from its subsequent accumulation of meanings, revealing also the origins of the most common misunderstandings about nostalgia.
The word ‘nostalgia’ was coined in a medical treatise in 1688 to describe the physical symptoms of homesickness. In his ‘Dissertatio Medica de NOSTALGIA, oder Heimwehe’, the Swiss physician Johannes Hofer analysed ‘stories of certain youths, thus afflicted, that unless they had been brought back to the native land, whether in a fever or censured by the ‘Wasting Disease’, they had met their last day on foreign shores’. In search of a medical term for this malady, he combined Greek nostoV ‘return home’ and algoV ‘pain’, diagnosing nostalgia as a disease caused by ‘the sad mood originating from the desire for the return to one’s native land’.  The meaning of nostalgia as a disease and an emotion continued to fluctuate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In his Dissertation on the Influence of the Passions upon Disorders of the Body (1788), William Falconer carefully distinguished between hypochondria, melancholia, and nostalgia, although the latter was ‘said to begin with melancholy, sadness, love of solitude’. These symptoms were also those of love, which Falconer classified as a passion and not a disease, highlighting the ways in which these categories were seen to overlap. Love could result in fever, epilepsy, or an aneurysm of the aorta.  In his Observations on the Nature, Kinds, Causes, and Prevention of Insanity, Lunacy, or Madness (1782), Thomas Arnold similarly maintained that nostalgia—‘[t]his unreasonable fondness for the place of our birth’—closely resembled both grief and love.  In the late-eighteenth-century cult of sensibility, the symptoms of nostalgia—as of many other physical maladies—were redefined as praiseworthy signs of virtue and a high sensibility, anticipating the Romantic idealisation of creative recall.
It has been suggested that the concept of nostalgia as a clinical term began to disappear in the course of the nineteenth century, as the emotion nostalgia was increasingly divorced from its symptomatology.  This process, however, was not as straightforward as it has often been presented. Immanuel Kant stressed the dependence even of a clinical nostalgia on a time rather than on a place as he set out to expose the patriotism of the Swiss, who had been particularly associated with this ailment ever since Hofer’s emphasis on his countrymen’s homesickness.  A return home, Kant argued, cured homesickness in that it dispelled the illusions it had created: ‘Later, when they visit these places, they find their anticipation dampened and even their homesickness cured. They think that everything has drastically changed, but it is that they cannot bring back their youth.’  Nostalgia was conceived as a patriotic disease, while also related to memories of the childhood home. More significantly, even when considered a clinical condition, it was begrudgingly admired as a sign of loyalty to a time or place. The Romantics particularly proceeded to appropriate nostalgia in the contexts of a new idealisation of childhood and childhood memories, of nature and the natural, of the homeland, and also of what has been called ‘a larger state of consciousness, the familiar mood known as Romantic melancholy’, an alignment that contributes to the persistent confusion of nostalgia with melancholy.  Writing the tellingly entitled poem ‘Home-sick’ in 1799, Coleridge longed for the healing influence of the air of his homeland, suggesting that homesickness was a disease that could be cured by a return home—in short, a clinical nostalgia—while he simultaneously treated it as a Romantic yearning: ‘Thou Breeze, that play’st on Albion’s shore!’  When Wordsworth wrote that ‘[a]ll good poetry […] takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity’, he formulated a definition of poetic production that emphasised the creative aspects of a specifically nostalgic way of recalling events and emotions. 
Influenced by Romantic poetry, the fiction of the time shared its idealisation of longing, yet also depicted pining protagonists within a realist narrative, offering sympathetic insight into their yearnings as well as an almost clinical description of their symptoms. Fanny Burney’s early novels exemplify this ambiguity, anticipating the analysis of different forms of nostalgic longings in The Wanderer. The vaguely defined illnesses with which her heroines are afflicted conform to a pathological interpretation of longing, even while they mark a shift from the detailing of both love- and homesickness to a sentimental idealisation of the home—of the childhood home and of domesticity in general. As in a host of novels of sensibility, raving lovesick heroines are healed by a return to or re-enactment of safe childhood homes. Yet as they span the development of Romantic fiction from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, it is possible to trace a shift from lovesickness to a longing for home in the succession of Burney’s novels. The suffering of the heroine of her first novel, Evelina (1778), stands in the tradition of what has been called ‘the sentimental love-madness vogue’ of the late eighteenth century.  Evelina longs for Lord Orville while at home; her longing is mapped on her body. As her belief in Lord Orville is restored, she is cured at once: ‘Lord Orville is still himself! […] Your happy Evelina, restored at once to spirits and tranquillity.’  In Cecilia (1782), homelessness, combined with the temporary loss of her lover, plunges the heroine into a madness that can be traced back to clinical nostalgia in its last stage as well as to lovesickness.  In Camilla (1796), the love-interest moves into the background as the destruction of a happy family and a physical pining for a return home become the novel’s climaxes. Camilla resides in ‘the bosom of her respectable family’; the first chapter is entitled ‘A Family Scene’: ‘O blissful state of innocence, purity, and delight, why must it fleet so fast? Why scarcely but by retrospection is its happiness known?’  The loss of this home is the novel’s central crisis. Camilla’s sickbed-reunion with her lover ends in a wedding, not a funeral, but it is her reunion with her family that constitutes the desired homecoming to ‘primeval joy’:
Camilla, whose danger was the result of self-neglect, as her sufferings had all flowed from mental anguish, was already able to go down to the study upon the arrival of Mr Tyrold: where she received, with grateful rapture, the tender blessings which welcomed her to the paternal arms—to her home—to peace—to safety—and primeval joy. 
The Wanderer takes this interest in nostalgia further by poising the experience of homesickness against ideologies of the homeland with their new nationalist appropriation of nostalgia. Written against the background of the French Revolution and the Terror and published almost two decades after Camilla, Burney’s last novel is far removed from the light-hearted parody of fashionable society in Evelina. The Wanderer’s subtitle, ‘Female Difficulties’, not only promises a treatment of proto-feminist issues, but also a focus on the peripheral participants in historical events in the tradition of Walter Scott that goes even further in its emphasis on the domestic effects of historical cataclysms, leaving revolutionary France behind very quickly to detail the difficulties experienced by the persecuted heroine at home. The plot can admittedly be seen as becoming submerged by references to current issues and their underlying ideologies. The Wanderer has consequently been described as ‘not a novel at all, but a dissertation on the inequalities of the sexes’.  Set in the 1790s, but published only in 1814, it has moreover been dismissed as ‘a belated novel, striving to have the last word on controversies no one cared about’.  As a retrospective narrative, however, it significantly draws the nationalist project of writing the past into debate. At the same time, it recycles the collapse of radical sensibility in the 1790s to pinpoint the impact of the resulting xenophobia on nineteenth-century attitudes to the foreigner, to a migrant ‘other’ whose nostalgic memories and longings are radically different from those fostered by the radical novels of the 1790s and from those promoted by Burkean reactions to the Revolution.
SICK OF AND FOR HOME:
REDEFINITIONS OF HOME IN THE
DOMESTIC ROMANTIC NOVEL
Written partly in England, partly in post-revolutionary, war-torn France, and nearly confiscated by a police officer at Dunkirk in August 1812, The Wanderer is the product of warring French and British forms of nationalism and their impact on the lives of those caught up in-between—of the ‘hybrid’ characters.  Instead of detailing the horrors of Robespierre’s Terror, it briefly refers to the heroine’s flight to England and then proceeds to describe the sufferings she is subjected to in her ‘native’ country. Juliet alias Ellis flees on a boat across the channel and, her money stolen, she arrives as an ‘itinerant Incognita’ (p. 208). She is both perceived as and feels ‘foreign’: ‘I feel myself, though in my native country, like a helpless foreigner’ (p. 214). In her exile as an outcast at ‘home’, she is ‘thus strangely alone—thus friendless—thus desolate—thus mysterious’ (p. 102). As a nameless, apparently stateless, and homeless heroine, she is seen to wander through the class-system, in which she is judged and treated according to her changing appearance, her apparel, and her shifting monetary and therefore societal status. The idealised England of her imagination clearly fails to supply the sought succour, investing Juliet’s raptures on her arrival at the English coast, when she darts ‘forward with such eagerness’ (p. 22), with a bitter irony. Her wanderings only commence in her ‘native’ land, become particularly poignant inside English Great Houses, and are further conflicted when she meets the blood relations she cannot claim while retaining her anonymity. Returning ‘home’ from war-torn France offers neither welcome nor safety.
The homelessness and homesickness the Wanderer endures in her ‘native’ country brings the incongruities of nationalism home, setting it in a domestic context, at the same time declaring the homeland as an ideologically constructed concept. Gary Kelly has stressed the duality of Romantic nationalism in the 1790s, pointing out that while Britain was at war with a militantly nationalist France, nationalism was also used to block solidarity between French revolutionaries and the Jacobins in Britain.  In The Wanderer, personal nostalgia stands in stark contrast to the nationalism of post-revolutionary France and to the nationalist xenophobia in Britain. When her fellow passengers on the boat that takes her to England discover her confused national and social status, they unanimously agree that Juliet ‘should hasten to return whence she came’ (p. 815). Her upbringing in France additionally underscores the indeterminacy of her national allegiances and her nostalgia for a home. In fleeing France and a potential ‘home’ with a Frenchman who has acquired power during the Terror, Juliet also leaves her childhood home and her only protector, guardian, and father-figure, a Catholic Bishop. Reunited with him, she cries out in French: ‘ “My guardian! My preserver! My more than father!—I have not then lost you!” ’ (p. 857) ‘Home’ is exposed as an elusive space; and the notion of a fixed home or place of origin as contingent at best. Juliet becomes homesick as soon as she arrives in her ‘native’ land. The place of her nostalgic desire shifts from a long forgotten place of birth to France, the country of her childhood, her youth, her happiness: ‘ “Oh hours of refined felicity past and gone, how severe is your contrast with those of heaviness and distaste now endured!” ’ (p. 429)
This shift of a nostalgic space connects The Wanderer to a more widely read novel that similarly aligns the micro- or domestic politics of nostalgia with imperial projects abroad—Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, published in the same year. Fanny Price’s transference of homesickness during her exile at home has been seen as evidence of a preoccupation with differentiated spaces of alterity and imperial cultural productions ever since Edward Said’s influential analysis has re-inscribed the novel within geopolitical discourses,  as implicitly evoked anxieties of empire are seen as shedding light on the domestic politics of imperial homemaking. Sir Thomas’s expedition to his plantations in Antigua and his treatment of a dependent niece of course seem to invite such readings. Even though Franco Moretti has recently suggested that Sir Thomas goes abroad ‘not because he must go there—but because he must leave Mansfield Park’,  as his absence is crucial to the development of the plot, imperial attitudes and absentee landlordism serve to underline the centrality of economic relationships and homesickness in the novel. Miss Price’s loss of home and consequent nostalgia are undeniably bound up with the economics of the estate and even more importantly, with medical theories on the effects of dislocation through her uncle’s use of homesickness as a ‘medicinal project upon his niece’s understanding’.  Taken from her parents’ overcrowded house, she has been brought up by the self-congratulatory, pompous West Indian planter. Not conforming to his ideas of a suitable match for her, she is sent ‘home’ into exile. The confrontation with her parents’ comparative poverty is to ‘teach her the value of a good income’, to ‘incline her to a juster estimate of the value of that home of greater permanence, and equal comfort, of which she had the offer’.  Counting on what he terms ‘wholesome regrets’, Sir Thomas wishes her to be ‘heartily sick of home before her visit ended’. 
This connection between the economics of Sir Thomas’s estates in England and the West Indies and the dependent niece’s migrations and experience of clinical nostalgia is complicated by the elusiveness of her nostalgic ideal. The ideal home is revealed to be discursively constituted by contrast: ‘[Mansfield] was now the home. Portsmouth was Portsmouth; Mansfield was home.’  While Fanny’s nostalgia turns out to be as constructive as it is private, secretive, and isolating, the desired place is significantly neither the home allotted to her by her birth nor the home her chosen family would choose for her. As Marilyn Butler has pointed out, Fanny’s ‘implicit alternative home’ is Everingham, Henry Crawford’s fashionably improved estate.  The desired nostalgic return to Mansfield is at first not an offered option. However, as with all of Austen’s heroines, Fanny insists on choosing her allegiances—her home as well as her husband—herself. This rejection of communal definitions and pressures is perhaps the most Romantic element of this disputed Romantic domestic novel.  It shares with The Wanderer not only its juxtaposition of the privacy of personal nostalgia, of a longing for a specific place rendered desirable particularly, even exclusively, to the nostalgic individual, with a form of group pressure, but also references to anxieties of empire that cast an additional light on the effects of dislocation and the clash of personal with national or communal definitions of home.
Both novels can be described as domestic Romantic fiction in their emphasis on the implications and impacts of empire, nationalism, and war at home. The Wanderer, however, engages more emphatically with current conceptualisations of national ideologies and allegiances. While this focus on ideology tends to submerge the story, it singles the novel out as a Romantic novel about nationalism that stresses its effects on the vulnerable individual—female, hybrid, penniless, and at first disguised as a black woman—and on domestic politics without becoming confined to two inches of ivory.  The Wanderer’s exilic condition at ‘home’ as well as her nostalgia for ‘feelings of happier days’ (p. 102) in France are poised against the dramatised political reactions of the boatload of representative Englishmen she encounters during her flight. The presentation of the ostensibly particularly English chivalry of which the Admiral—who is, in fact, Welsh, not English, and later revealed as one of the Wanderer’s British relatives—appears to be so proud is almost comical: ‘ “You appear to be a person of as right a way of thinking, as if you had lisped English for your mother-tongue” ’ (p. 23). The reaction of the young men to a racially ‘other’, unprotected girl is even more revealing with regard to both ‘female difficulties’ and imperial race relations. Dismissive racism—‘ “What, is that black insect buzzing about us still?” ’ (p. 27)—is juxtaposed with aggressive desire: ‘ “Poor demoiselle […] wants a little bleaching, to be sure; but she has not bad eyes; nor a bad nose, neither” ’ (p. 27). Harleigh’s quixotic knight-errantry is merely a different way of expressing his sexual interest. Elinor, the self-contradictory radical anti-heroine, comments on his ‘maimed and defaced Dulcinea’, ‘this wandering Creole’ (p. 50): If a defaced ‘other’ attracts him, Elinor herself ‘won’t lose a moment in becoming black, patched, and penniless’ (p. 28). This ‘general persecution against such afflicted innocence’ (p. 556) exposes the insular xenophobia of British society in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Intriguingly, the reactions to the Revolution are depicted from the point of view of an unclassified exile, whose disguise as a ‘native’ additionally invokes the incongruities and injustices of both French and British imperial ventures.
DIGNITY AND THE NATIVE
ENEMY: THE ELUSIVENESS
OF ROMANTIC ‘NATIVES’
Much has been made of Juliet’s disguise as ‘a francophone African’, which can be seen as an arraignment of French and British colonial enterprises, and her escape from marriage to one of Robespierre’s commissaries.  Alternately a spectacle and a scapegoat, this object of charity, suspicions, and sexual desire is exploited for self-serving purposes and has to engage all her powers of resistance ‘in refusing to be stared at like a wild beast’ (p. 54). It is significantly Elinor’s ‘spirit of contradiction’ that fixes ‘her design of supporting the stranger’ and ‘whom she exulted in thus exclusively possessing, as a hidden curiosity’ (p. 55). Elinor’s strategic display of this exotic curiosity in her own pseudo-liberal revolutionary agenda turns out to be more damaging than the xenophobia of the narrow-minded, largely ignorant, defenders of propriety. The representation of the native ‘other’ in the novel is, in fact, deeply ambiguous and conflicted. It has been suggested that blackness serves as a metaphor that connects the heroine’s plight to that of slaves, but also that this alterity is altered through what Sara Salih has termed an ‘epidermic transformation’, which converts the unfathomable other into a reassuringly native subject.  Claudia Johnson has pointed out an additional ambivalence in the treatment of ‘the homologous inflections of race, class, and gender’.  The suggested solidarity with the racially oppressed, from which radical criticism might emerge, is undermined by the ridicule of Mrs Ireton’s slave Mungo, whose status is lower than that of an Incognita who is not ‘really’ black.  Juliet, in fact, undergoes various forms of ‘enslavement’, whereby her change of skin colour can be seen as subverting criticism of racial subjugation by reducing the function of slavery in the novel to a metaphor. This use includes descriptions of the ordeal Juliet undergoes as Mrs Ireton’s ‘humble companion’ and of her attempts to earn her living as an exploited music-teacher or in the confinement of a milliner’s shop as well as her escape from the ‘bonds’ of matrimony. The metaphorical connection between enforced marriages and slavery is overtly, even bluntly, put. Juliet flees from a wife’s place in her husband’s home—a state she describes as the life of ‘a bond-woman’ (p. 848), ‘destined to exile, slavery, and misery’ (p. 863). The themes of confused national identities and the search for home, however, permeate this engagement with metaphorical subjection, eventually letting discourses of racial and national ‘otherness’ re-emerge.
The Wanderer’s shifting status is pinpointed by the multivalent deployment of the word ‘native’ in the text. At first disguised as a ‘native’ dislocated from an undefined ‘native’ land by French imperial politics—and the issues of miscegenation are implied in the discussion of her assumed origins—she employs a camouflage of being at once a ‘native’ and a racial ‘other’, while attempting to reach her ‘long lost, and fearfully recovered native land’ (p. 751), her place of birth, which then turns out to be simply another—an ‘other’—place of persecution, which makes her long for her lost home abroad. Both the native as a noble savage and the ‘wanderer’—and Juliet is at one point compared to the ‘wandering Jew’ (p. 429)—are Romantic figures, reasserting and further contributing to the novel’s exploration of the Romantic concepts of the ‘native’ and the ‘other’. In questioning the ideals of the natural and the innate, Burney’s text plays with the meanings of the word ‘native’. Considered as French by the English, the Wanderer is termed their ‘native enemy’ (p. 25), while she is described as upholding her ‘native dignity’ (p. 51). It is one of the book’s incongruities that while the suppression sanctioned by class-systems is exposed, innate nobility stands nonetheless affirmed. Juliet shares this aristocratic superiority with the similarly exiled Gabriella, her ‘earliest friend, the chosen sharer of her happier days […], restored to her in the hour of her desolation’ (p. 395). This foreigner is Juliet’s only acknowledged connection in her so-called ‘native’ land. Both have been ‘driven, without offence, or even accusation, from prosperity and honours, to exile’ (p. 390). The wandering of the two young ladies—brought up together, but one born in England and one in France—at once centralises and displaces the significance of their origins by representing their experience of exile and nostalgia for a home elsewhere as identical.
Their parallel predicaments render Juliet’s questionable Englishness a mere coincidence, while the characteristics that mark her as ‘foreign’ or ‘other’ indicate the indeterminacy of such categories as English- or Britishness. In particular her accent is considered as undermining her nationality, even though her direct speech is interestingly presented in immaculate ‘standard’ English, as opposed to the various sociolects in the novel. Having been brought up in France, Juliet has ‘acquired something of a foreign accent’ (p. 643). While her ‘epidermic transformation’ externalises the indeterminacy of her status as a ‘native other’, her accent and attire are the skin-deep categories that deny her the status of a native of England. Accents as marks of ambiguous nationhood significantly recur in the fiction of the time. For the boorish Hughson in Montalbert (1795), a novel of sensibility by the prolific late-eighteenth-century novelist Charlotte Smith, for example, Montalbert’s accent obscures, even denies, his Englishness: ‘ “Why, you can’t speak much now, Sir. […] I suppose by your accent, Sir, that you are a foreigner.” ’  The Wanderer ‘understands English on and off at her pleasure’ (p. 16), but her use of assumed and camouflaged ‘otherness’ is not meant as a social imposture—unlike Madame Duval’s deliberate masking of her lower-class background by a French accent in Evelina—but as a means of survival. 
In Frances Burney’s fiction and increasingly in her later novels, family ties stretch across national borders. Madame Duval’s false Frenchness exemplifies Burney’s early and primarily comical use of French characters. In the wake of the French Revolution and specifically after Britain’s declaration of war, representations of the French expectedly become more conflicted. In The Wanderer, Juliet’s parenthood may be purely British—involving only ‘transgressions’ across class-boundaries—but she has nonetheless two families for whose re-integration she longs. As Deirdre Lynch has succinctly put it, she remains ‘irredeemably hybrid’.  Her ‘adoptive’ family comprises an imprisoned Bishop, his sister, and her unhappily married daughter, who mourns for her dead child and bewails her exile. The head of Juliet’s English family as good as refuses to acknowledge the relation, and her anonymous encounter with her half-brother is fraught with the possibilities of incestuous rape. Eventually, Lady Aurora and Lord Melbury happily acknowledge the half-sister whose identity, legitimacy, and worth—in a monetary as well as moral sense—have been proved. These two paragons of noble sensibility form the ideal familial community of her nostalgic imagination, evoking ‘all her tenderest affections’ (p. 754). Her connections allow her to receive the offer of marriage she longs for, ending her wandering in a familial community.
Although the Wanderer’s search for home amidst contending nationalisms seems in part to enact the rhetoric of Edmund Burke’s influential Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), the mixed nationalities of her families effectively dismantle such nationalist alignments. Burke extols ideological strategies to give the ‘frame of polity the image of a relation in blood’ by
binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties, adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections, keeping inseparable and cherishing with the warmth of all their combined and mutually reflected charities our state, our hearths, our sepulchres, and our altars. 
The Wanderer’s hybridity subverts this fiction of a nation of relations. Instead, the novel ends with the realisation of a domestic alternative, at once evading and transcending nationalist ideologies of the homeland.
Refutations of and reactions to the Reflections recur in fictional and non-fictional texts of the 1790s, as Burke’s idealisation of the aristocracy and reverence for buildings that symbolise established institutions—and Burke even describes the Bastille as a venerable castle—complicate the functions of nostalgia and the picturesque in British novels that endorse a radical sensibility. Wollstonecraft expresses a radical rejection of Burkean nostalgia when she questions the point of restoring old buildings: ‘[W]hy was it a duty to repair an ancient castle, built in barbarous ages, of Gothic materials?’  Charlotte Smith’s self-avowedly pro-revolutionary novel Desmond (1792) is more ambiguous in its representation of the needs of revolution and, more emphatically, reform, yet its rejection of Burkean sentiments remains clear-cut. Writing home from France, the titular hero exposes the ‘malignant fabrications’ that are circulated in England.  Burkean rhetoric is denounced in a stylistic parody as sublime as Burke’s own eloquence:
I will not enter into a discussion of it, though the virulence, as well as the misrepresentation with which it abounds, lays it alike open to ridicule and contradiction. […] I foresee that a thousand pens will leap from their standishes (to parody a sublime sentence of his own) to answer such a book. 
Burney’s retrospective novel is necessarily far removed from such radical endorsements of a revolutionary agenda. The excesses of a British—off-stage, as it were—appreciation of the French Revolution are, in fact, embodied, and to an extent parodied, in the character of Elinor, a proto-feminist, pro-revolutionary, suicidal atheist who is shown to proclaim her ideological leanings primarily out of a ‘spirit of contradiction’ (p. 55). Various critics have considered Elinor the result of a misreading of Wollstonecraft. Julia Epstein calls her Juliet’s ‘protofeminist revolutionary alter ego’, whose suicide attempt rescues the heroine ‘just as Bertha Mason would later rescue Jane Eyre’.  While the novel treats the migrant’s difficulties with sympathy and indignation, Elinor is, in fact, deeply tainted by her eccentric and, it is emphasised, inherently selfish appropriation of such sympathies with the suppressed. It is this twist that complicates an anti-Jacobin reading, singling out the novel as a significantly and intriguingly ambiguous treatment of the repercussions of nationalist and radical ideologies and particularly their use and abuse of sympathies with the homeless as well as of nostalgia for a home.
As Frances Burney’s last novel reacts against the concept of a British nationalist counter-ideology to the expansionist French nationalism, it takes the domestic novel into the realm of a more politically conscious genre without lapsing into the openly proclaimed agenda of nationalist literature. Romantic nationalism as founded on a shared culture is instead shown to clash with a personal past; the xenophobia nurtured by Jacobin as well as anti-Jacobin ideologies with the heroine’s hybridity; and a manufactured nationalist heritage nostalgia with homesickness. The liberal, even radical, attitudes underlying the representation of a woman pursued by her husband, of the racism directed against a (seemingly) black refugee, and the treatment of an employee or hired companion, however, are undercut by the exposure of the anti-heroine’s false liberality and eventual breakdown. The heroine herself is not only safely married, but revealed to be white, legitimate, and a member of the British upper classes after all. Nonetheless, The Wanderer provides an alternative to both pro-revolutionary novels of a radical sensibility and to anti-Jacobin, Burkean, reactions, offering an exploration of the impact of imperialist and nationalist economies and ideologies at home without becoming merely a domestic novel confined to the representation of a small stratum of society. As such, it sheds a different light on the heterogeneity of Romantic fiction and the writing of the French Revolution.
This article is copyright © 2003 Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, and is the result of the independent labour of the scholar or scholars credited with authorship. The material contained in this document may be freely distributed, as long as the origin of information used has been properly credited in the appropriate manner (e.g. through bibliographic citation, etc.).
REFERRING TO THIS
T. S. WAGNER. ‘Nostalgia for Home or Homelands: Romantic Nationalism and the Indeterminate Narrative in Frances Burney’s The Wanderer’, Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 10 (June 2003). Online: Internet (date accessed): <http://www.cf.ac.uk/encap/corvey/articles/ cc10_n03.html>.
Tamara S. Wagner is a Junior Fellow at the National University of Singapore. She has published articles on nostalgia, occidentalism, and nineteenth-century ideals of masculinity and has contributed essays to the Victorian and the Postcolonial Web Projects. She is currently completing her first monograph, Longing: Narratives of Nostalgia in the British Novel, 1740–1890, which draws on her doctoral research at the University of Cambridge. Her latest projects include a study of colonial and postcolonial representations of the Straits Settlements and a study of Jane Austen’s niece, the Victorian novelist Catherine Hubback. A book chapter on sequels to Austen’s novels is forthcoming.
Last modified 1 July, 2003 .