4 January 2012
The first general survey of the history of travel literature, covering more than 3000 years from the ancient world to the present day, has just been released by Bodleian Library Publishing.
Written in a clear accessible style, Travel: A Literary History focuses on almost 200 key authors, from Pliny the Elder to Colin Thubron, and including Marco Polo, Sir John Mandeville, Thomas Coryate, Captain Cook, T.E. Lawrence, and Christopher Columbus as well as Boswell and Johnson, Byron, Ruskin, Defoe, Conrad, and James.
In addition to the well-known travel texts, the book also includes literary works describing journeys which are not normally regarded as travel literature, such as Herodotus’ Histories and the Epic of Gilgamesh.
A self-confessed armchair traveller, the author delves into the rich and fascinating history of travel writing to reveal the different paradigms of travel through the ages – whether for exploration, conquest, pilgrimage, science, commerce, romanticism, adventure, and imperialism – showing how one motive for travelling has been succeeded by another. He demonstrates how travel writers have slowly outgrown their traditional stance of superiority to all things ‘foreign’, and have moved towards a deeper sensitivity to other lands and other cultures.
The book also looks at travel writing as a genre, noting that, ‘Travel writing has often inhabited a strange borderland between truth and imagination, fact and fiction. And even before the modern age, travel writing was the ideal vehicle for the humorist, the eccentric, the loner or the crackpot, who fitted into no easy political or intellectual scheme, whose passion was to escape from his homeland and jaunt through the world as he pleased, with no fixed abode and no fixed identity.’
No previous generation has ever travelled so energetically or so obsessively as ours, nor has travel writing ever been so much in fashion as it is now. But behind the self-conscious literary artistry of today’s narratives there lies a rich history of travel writing stretching back over several thousand years. This unique account offers an absorbing insight into this vast literary heritage.
'A wide-ranging and insightful addition to the literature of travel.'