Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Genealogy of an Idea

Dawn shares a link to her latest article, unpicking the myth that Europeans feared and disliked mountains before the advent of modernity.

Although the blog has been quiet, quite a lot has happened with the mountains project over the past few months. Book proposals have been submitted (watch this space), articles published… and a new arrival born! I’m briefly sticking my head above the parapet of maternity leave to do a bit of shameless self-promotion of something which took me a lot longer than 9 months to produce: ‘Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Genealogy of an Idea’, aptly published in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment on my most recent birthday. If you have institutional access to the journal, you can read the published version here, or you can download an earlier version of the article here.

‘The Genealogy of an Idea’ represents a much-revised version of the final chapter of my PhD thesis. My thesis explored early modern attitudes towards mountains, through the medium of travel literature, poetry, and natural philosophical debates (the stories and responses I uncovered in these sources form the anticipated content of one of the proposed books mentioned above). I found, contrary to the accepted narrative of ‘mountain gloom’, that pre-modern Europeans were in fact frequently enthusiastic about mountains. This left me with a big question, which that final chapter sought to answer: where did the idea that Europeans despised mountains before the advent of modernity come from?

The most famous scholarly iteration of this concept can be found in Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s eponymous Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite, but as my new article relates, its roots go much deeper. Spoiler warning: strikingly, a narrative which credits Romanticism and modern mountaineering with realising a ‘true’ appreciation of mountains has its earliest expressions in the writings of the poet William Wordsworth, and the climber Leslie Stephen.

I won’t say more – go and read the article! Moving beyond the narrative that it critiques is an incredibly important step towards the more nuanced understanding of premodern mountain responses that our project aims to promote.


Leave a comment