The cultural contexts of return
Whatever the locations and modes of pastoral retreat may be, there must in some sense be a return from that location to a context in which the results of the journey are to be understood. When the pastoral is merely escapist, as in the anthologies of the Georgian poets after the First World War, there is an implicit attempt on the part of the writer to resist return, to stay out there in the safely comforting location of retreat, in their case in the countryside of a mythic Old England where stability and traditional values were located. Because the journey to the country is written for an urban audience, there is intrinsic to the pastoral a movement of retreat and return that, if not explicit within the text, as in the return to court in As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale, is implicit in the address to an audience for whom what happens in Arcadia has some interest. Indeed, whether the author’s choice of Arcadia is classical Greece, the only-just-disappeared Golden Age, the present Golden Age, a utopian future, an Alpine summit, Antarctica, Arden or the garden, that choice will be made with its contemporary audience in mind. The discourse of retreat will exploit the location in order to speak to the
cultural context of its readership. If the pastoral is successful, the audience will know that what is perceived to be happening in Arcadia has relevance for them in their own time and (urban) place, with its own anxieties and tensions.