The romantic back view.

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The Romantics revitalised walking in British culture by celebrating wandering and strolling through the landscape on foot in contrast to the emerging public transport technologies of the nineteenth century (see Solnit, 2002; Wallace, 1993). While pedestrian travel ironically depended on new transport links to picturesque locations, such as the Lake District in England and Connemara in Ireland, walking was re-imagined as an extraordinary rather than mundane activity, which was treasured and celebrated by people in all its sensory richness. Crucially, however, wandering was seen as something that was not necessarily goal-oriented, but was linked to self-discovery. This practice of wandering on foot was symbolised by the solitary male Rückenfigur [person seen from behind] in Romantic art and letters, who engaged in contemplation and reverie while on the move: as Jean-Jacques Rousseau put it, ‘my mind only works with my legs’ (qtd. in Solnit, 2002, 14). The characters in some of Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings memorably illustrate this practice.

“The Spectral Arctic: A History of Dreams and Ghosts in Polar Exploration” by Shane McCorristine

This concept of the “Rückenfigur” is amusingly similar to the figures frequently seen on the covers of Young Adult novels in more recent years. The crucial difference between the Rückenfigur and the 21st century Young Adult protagonist might be that many YA protagonists are female, a la Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games.”

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