Agata Piotrowska

Erasing national and linguistic borders: identity and sense of belonging in female travel writings from East-Central Europe around 1800

My PhD project is looking at the exchange of information, history of connections and circulation and reception of new intellectual ideas among land-owning woman from the margins of Europe between c.1760-1830. ‘Margins’ are understood here as the areas distant from the main intellectual and scientific centres of the time situated in Paris and artistic centres of Italy. They are also understood as the lands located a considerable distance from the epicentre of the main political and social transformations, the heart of which was at the time Paris and, invented by the Enlightenment, ‘Western Europe’. Yet these lands, as my project will try to prove, were hardly the hinterlands of European politics and culture.A sample of female travel writings from Poland-Lithuania and Scotland have been chosen to prove this point. The female actors were deliberately chosen as small-scale entry points into an investigation of wider themes and ideas that spanned transnationally across the usual east-west Europe division the modern scholarship provides.The project takes a dual-marginal position as its starting point: a marginal geographical starting point and the voices, writings, and lives by women often overheard or unheard in a world and at a time dominated by male statesmen, philosophers, artists and scientists.

In this paper I focus on several travel writings by Polish-Lithuanian land-owning women which prove to be particularly interesting from the exophonic and translational linguistic point of view. The ladies in question were crossing not only political and geographical borders of the times, which in the late 1700s and early 1800s was still rather unusual for the women. They were also crossing language borders, writing their diaries and letters in different European languages, which were usually not their mother tongues, or sometimes in an entirely original multilingual blend of them. These blends, considered more closely, may provide a new lens through which one can study these women’s education, but also their personality and way of thinking. For instance, some letters written by the Polish-Lithuanian princess, Izabela Czartoryska,who was educated in both Polish and French, are written using both Polish and French words in each sentence. This would not serve as proof of her pretentiousness, as it might have been seen at times, but rather might lead to a study of what vocabulary was for such women more natural to be used in which language, was there any visible trend in associating the language with the context and why. The travel diaries and letters in question thus, which in themselves should be approached from a transnational research perspective as the sources written in between different ‘borders’ and probably proving the lack of such in today’s meaning of the notion, should also be approached from the perspective of linguistic transnationalism. The ladies discussed were not using or knowing any international language, yet their writing customs were going beyond the ‘borders’ of region or country

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