Impetuous torrents: Scottish waterfalls in travellers' narratives, 1769-1830
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This dissertation examines the waterfall in travellers’ accounts and guidebooks of Scotland between 1769 and 1830. Waterfalls have been generally neglected in studies of the cultural and aesthetic significance of landscape, and despite their popularity in Scotland, few commentators have attempted a discussion or explanation of them. Yet waterfalls, I argue, were ideally suited to the main aesthetic categories devoted to natural features in this period, the sublime and the picturesque. With reference to these categories – the sublime disclosing sentiments of awe, even of terror; the picturesque, detached contemplation – I discuss waterfalls as static object, and as dynamic process. The waterfall is arguably the pre-eminent picturesque landform. At the same time, it reveals the limitations of the picturesque way of viewing the world, perhaps more acutely than any other landform. The waterfall is inescapably dynamic, and thus repudiates the static mode of representation inherent in the picturesque. The vitality implied by the waterfall as a site of agency and process, and its sound, also brings with it the idea of the waterfall symbolising life, a feature which was particularly important in the often bleak surroundings of the Scottish Highlands.