Failed emigration still is an unsettling subject. It has hitherto received only scant attention in historical research or literary studies and likewise continues to be sidestepped in contemporary discourses. Yet a close look at its significance in the literature of a time period that saw unprecedented mass movement enables us to realize new connections both across the globe and across literary texts – connections between fictional and non-fictional texts, canonical and non-canonical works, metropolitan and settler writing; anxieties about unsettlement and formal innovation, reluctance and narrative delay, clichéd spaces and aesthetic rewritings; and also the different methodologies of emigration history, diasporic studies, and literary analysis. I have found Victorian representations of the failure to settle down – whether in a new place or back at home – a fascinating subject both because they make us reconsider our own experience of being unsettled and because they constructively unsettle still prevailing preconceptions about emigration and empire; nation-building and exclusion; expatriation and homelessness; diaspora, domesticity, and portable culture. Precisely because the Victorians generally perceived any feelings of unsettlement as uncomfortable rather than liberating, their contested discourses on failed emigration make us think anew about such feelings. To look at failure likewise helps us to avoid being tricked by nationalist or imperialist jingoism. It asks us critically to reassess standard conceptions of emigration in Victorian popular culture, and to revaluate how ideologies of domesticity and imperialism informed each other and continue to shape our ideas of home. Narratives of failed emigration and return, we have seen, dramatize a longing for home, a longing that we only fully realize when we are away and unhappy. Equally important, while these narratives offer different insight into the realities of overseas migration and settler life in the nineteenth century, their description of failure frequently also operates as a metaphor that can be startlingly versatile.