travel writing

travel writing
   For centuries, the genre of travel writing was unchanged. There was very little difference in approach between Richard Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1598–1600) and George Borrow’s Wild Wales (1862). Travel books contained a truthful account of an actual journey. Travellers went to faraway places and recounted their ‘adventures’ to the armchair reader. Books which challenged these generic conventions included Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and Voltaire’s Candide (1759), but these did not affect the tradition.
   The maximum ‘deviation’ until recent times was the inclusion of ‘tall tales’. Joshua Slocum alleged that he sprinkled the deck of his yacht Spray with tin tacks to deter marauding Indians in Sailing Alone Around the World (1900). Tristan Jones claimed to have pushed his eye back into its socket when it was knocked out by his mast in Ice (1979). This increased tendency towards the picaresque and emphasis on the eccentricity of the authors is evident in Dervla Murphy’s account of her bicycle ride to India Full Tilt (1965) and Rosie Swales’s sailing exploits in Rosie Darling (1973). But the focus in these accounts remained the same kind of derring-do that had been practised by such great travellers of the past as Lady Hester Stanhope, Richard Burton or Wilfrid Thesiger, whose account of crossing the Empty Quarter in Arabian Sands (1959) or living in Iraq in The Marsh Arabs (1964) became popular Penguin titles. Even Eric Newby’s cult book A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958) and Vikram Seth’s From Heaven Lake (1983), apparently in the ‘understated’ tradition where the focus is deliberately shifted from the prowess of the traveller to the interest of the people encountered, were really about their authors. The recent trend has been from the informative to the impressionistic. Rough Guides and the American Bill Bryson are largely responsible for this. The former, written for budget travellers and students on their year off, are an iconoclastic alternative to tourist-brochure influenced guides, whose production was often subsidized by the tourist industry. Bryson’s approach—acerbic, idiosyncratic, opinionated, at times manic— replaced that of gentler writers like Jonathan Raban (Hunting Mr Heartbreak, 1990) and Paul Theroux. (The Great Railway Bazaar, 1975). His books do not lay claim to veracity, yet have restored travel to the bestseller lists. They include The Lost Continent (1989), Neither Here Nor There (1991) and Notes from a Small Island (1995),
   See also: autobiography
   Further reading
    Jarvis, R. (1997) Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel, Basingstoke: Macmillan.
   MIKE STORRY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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