Travel Writing The Common Thread

Travel books are extremely diverse. Some are barely identifiable as​ travel writing. Gerald Durrell is​ thought of​ as​ an​ eccentric naturalist but in​ fact his books are engaging books on​ travel with a​ special focus on​ animal life. the​ kinds of​ travel literature,​ or​ indeed travel writers,​ can be broadly categorized. Top of​ the​ list are travel writers who are travelers by occupation and writers by profession. Three such writers are Paul Theroux,​ William Least Heat-Moon and Bill Bryson. it​ is​ probably no surprise that writers in​ this sub-genre are often short-tempered about travel and indeed the​ act of​ travel writing. More writers in​ this category are Jan Morris and Eric Newby. Once again there is​ a​ cross-over,​ because Morris is​ known as​ an​ historian and Newby as​ a​ novelist. it​ seems as​ soon as​ you​ write anything other than travelogues you​ have lost your purity!

Then there are travel works that are more along the​ lines of​ essays,​ such as​ V.S. Naipaul’s India: a​ Wounded Civilization,​ in​ which a​ journey becomes the​ peg on​ which to​ hang reflections and considerable philosophizing about nations,​ people,​ politics and culture. Another such work is​ Rebecca West’s work on​ Yugoslavia entitled Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. We have already dealt with the​ naturalist-as-traveler in​ Gerald Durrell. There are many more such examples. What of​ Sally Carrighar,​ Ivan T. Sanderson who also write to​ support their scientific ambitions. Arguably this sub-genre started when Charles Darwin undertook the​ voyage on​ HMS Beagle and returned to​ write his famous account of​ the​ journey,​ which encompassed science,​ natural history and travel.

Finally there is​ what I call travel writers who reversed into the​ genre. Here authors who have established their names in​ other genres travel and try their hand at​ travel writing. More famous authors than you​ would think have tried this. Examples include Samuel Johnson,​ Charles Dickens,​ Robert Louis Stevenson,​ the​ essayist Hillaire Belloc,​ the​ novelists Lawrence Durrell,​ D.H. Lawrence,​ Rebecca West,​ John Steinbeck and Evelyn Waugh.

Some critics and analysts say that fictional travelogues (accounts of​ journeys that are imaginary and often to​ imaginary destinations) make up a​ large proportion of​ travel literature. I would say that is​ a​ long shot. They argue that no one really knows where the​ travel accounts of​ Marco Polo and John Mandeville stopped being fact and became fiction. Well,​ that doesn’t make any fictional journey travel writing,​ in​ my book. More acceptable are instances where fictional works are based on​ factual journeys – such as​ Joseph Conrad’s Heat of​ Darkness and Paul Theroux’s the​ Mosquito Coast. it​ must be said that it​ takes consummate skill to​ incorporate an​ account of​ a​ real journey into a​ fictional story. Conrad managed this superbly.

Finally there are the​ entirely imaginary journeys that form part of​ the​ literary heritage but which in​ my view cannot be construed as​ travel literature of​ any kind. Homer’s Odyssey,​ Danté’s Divine Comedy,​ Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels,​ Voltaire’s Candide…. the​ list goes on​ and on…..One common thread does run through all of​ travel literature,​ though. it​ is​ the​ traveler’s – and the​ reader’s – boundless fascination with what lies over the​ next horizon,​ just out of​ sight and ready to​ be discovered.
Travel Writing The Common Thread Travel Writing The Common Thread Reviewed by Henda Yesti on September 03, 2018 Rating: 5

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