I’m on day 50 or so of parenthood – I’m on family leave from work. I had a rough delivery and hard recovery with postpartum complications. Now I’m feeling better physically and able to handle some intellectual tasks when the baby is sleeping or chirping to herself in the bassinet.
In an attempt to brush off my scholarly chops, I perused the intros to a few Oxbridge travel-writing anthologies. I recognized much I’ve absorbed over the past decade reading on this topic, but I also re-realized vast swaths of ignorance. Of texts, authors, historical facts, and so forth. It’s downright humiliating, though it’s fortunately a humiliation I can suffer in the privacy of my own maternal convalescence.
Of course, as is my nature, I began curating a list of sources—primary and secondary—that I’d need to read to help reckon with the gaps in my knowledge, but I also began to parse what about travel writing per se is different from the area I’ve actually been studying and writing about, which is tourism. And perhaps in parsing this, I began to forgive myself for not actually knowing All The Things. I don’t actually study travel-writing when it comes down to it. I’ve always sort of known this, but this is the first time I’ve really articulated what this means. It’s not that I’m not interested in what people write about while they’ve toured around, it’s that I’m more interested in what they have written about touring around – the boat ride, the way of transporting luggage, fellow tourists, how the trip affects how they feel about home, and especially what they think about tourism. It’s a difference between focusing on the subject of the trip rather than the object. “Travel writing” usually featurees both types of observations – those which are about the trip and those which are about the mechanics of travel or maybe rather meta-reflections on tourism.
In perusing these anthologies, I have come to the conclusion that I’d really benefit from studying medieval pilgrimages and the Crusades. And I need to learn more about the tourists that put graffiti on the Pyramids in Egypt in 1500 BCE – my archaeologist friend from graduate school says to consult The Graffiti of Pharaonic Egypt by Alexander Peden for information. Again – so many directions to go in here. Sometimes I fantasize about what I would write if I had more time to write: a book on medieval tourism and its relationship to (future) empire. Also, something about the ironic relationship between the purported religious purposes of the Crusades and the fact that the journey itself was rumored to be one of dissipation and, well, sex. This is supposedly why priests etc. would warn against the lure of the curiositas.
I’ve much to add to my “Uncomprehensive Travel-Writing Database” after this brief trip through the anthologies. As ever, academic scholarship proves humbling and intimidating. I do feel recharged and somewhat validated though to discover that for whatever reason, I remain compelled by the topic I landed upon in my senior year of college.
Books to peruse or re-peruse:
- Finucane’s Miracles and Pilgrims, 1977
- Zacher’s Curiosity and Pilgrimage, 1976
- Batten’s Pleasurable Instruction: Form and Convention in Eighteenth-Century Travel Literature, 1978
- Clifford’s Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, 1997
- Munter and Grose, eds., Englishmen Abroad, 1986
- Korte’s English Travel Writing from Pilgrimages to Postcolonial Explorations, 2000
- Stafford’s Voyage into Substance, 1984
- Leask’s Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing, 2002
- Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin’s The Empire Writes Back, 1989
- Pratt’s Travel Writing and Transculturation, 1992
- Holland and Huggan’s Tourists with Typewriters, 2000
I fantasize that one day, I’ll be able to write a whole book about this fellow John Chetwode Eustace, a much-maligned Irish-Catholic priest who went under the gauntlet posthumously in Little Dorrit. I can’t thank Dickens enough for deriding him, however, because otherwise I would never have found out about the man who wrote one of the most important proto-guidebooks of the nineteenth century, and I would never have published this, my finest work, in Studies in Romanticism.
Looking around at various databases of travel writing as I figure out what sort of format mine should use, and I found this:
“A Database of Women’s Travel Writing, 1780-1840”
Will be exploring what it offers and how it is formatted in more detail.
My own travel writing database is quite specific to the readings I’ve been doing for the past 5 years – whenever I stumble across a reference to a guidebook—sometimes within a guidebook—I put it in my list. My list has grown into a spreadsheet and at the moment, I’m trying to figure out what tags I want to use and how to notate the ways in which travelers used and referenced each others’ writings.
I wrote an email to a friend today in which I summarized my dissertation casually. I am quoting it here because I rarely write about my dissertation in casual email form, and it was fun to summarize it outside the context of a job market letter.
The subject is the evolution of the guidebook genre and how middle class mass tourists liked reading guides that condescended to them – touring as aspirational role-playing. (Tourists liked to think of themselves as Lord Byron.) Also about the way religious politics make their way into the guidebooks – because Anglos loved the exoticism of watching Roman Catholic rituals in Italy and France. I have a chapter on a radical Catholic priest who wrote the first 19th c proto-guidebook – John Chetwode Eustace. Really fascinating weird figure. Then a chapter on Hobhouse (Byron’s best friend) who hated Eustace. A chapter on John Murray III, the publisher and his 1840s guides to Northern Italy. A chapter on Ruskin and Venice. Last is a chapter about this woman from the 1860s who went on Thomas Cook’s first guided tour of the Alps – Jemima Morrell. She wrote a hilarious journal about her trip.
While my Storymap version of the Morrell chapter map is still in progress here, I completed a very thorough map using Google Maps of her route.
My goal in this map is to show the form of travel (train/boat/foot) rather than the precise routes and roads taken. Using the rather rough line-drawing tool of the platform was a good way to show the form (using color) – but the lines are rather blunt. The value of showing the type of travel for this chapter is in demonstrating A) how varied the transportation was for members of Morrell’s traveling group and B) just how much ground they covered nearly every single day. And they rose around 4am and fell asleep after 10pm regularly. Such robustness.
I plan to do a separate map to outline their four days in Paris at the tail end of their journey – such running about town on foot and feeling pushed around on omnibuses. (I’d like to find a good image of an 1860s omnibus!)
Although it is behind a paywall, my article in Literature Compass came out on September 3. Here is a link to its abstract. It’s called “19th-century Travel and the 21st-century Scholar.” It’s a survey of books published in the last ten years or so that describe nineteenth-century British tourism and its relationship to literature. I argue that given the development of the field over the past generation of scholars, they “need no longer apologize for interdisciplinarity nor for discarding the observance of strict boundaries between literary and non-literary genres.”
I’m creating a page on this site (here) where I keep track of one of my favorite recurring tropes of tourism, both historical and contemporary. It’s this idea that having a real experience of a place – experiencing the “authentic” Paris or the “real” Los Angeles – means going somewhere where the other tourists don’t tend to go, or to which only locals can give you access. Dean MacCannell, author of The Tourist (one of the most important texts on the topic) writes that this search for getting off the “beaten track” “suggests that somewhere in tourist settings there are real events accessible to intellectual elites” (105). Jonathan Culler, in his essay “The Semiotics of Tourism,” writes that this is the “most common motif” of tourism (159 in Framing the Sign).
Obviously, the big societal/cultural question to consider is why we are so concerned with authenticity in the first place. What are we doing in our daily lives that makes us want to find something “authentic” when we leave home? And what does the experience of “authenticity” feel like to someone in the midst of experiencing it?