Travel literature  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"The Alps […] fill the mind with an agreeable kind of horror."--Remarks on Several Parts of Italy (1705) by Joseph Addison

"It is a curious fact that of that class of literature to which Munchausen belongs, that namely of _Voyages Imaginaires_, the three great types should have all been created in England. Utopia, Robinson Crusoe, and Gulliver, illustrating respectively the philosophical, the edifying, and the satirical type of fictitious travel, were all written in England, and at the end of the eighteenth century a fourth type, the fantastically mendacious, was evolved in this country."--1895 edition of Baron Munchausen

"A little beyond this, we got into a sea, not of water, but of milk; and upon it we saw an island full of vines; this whole island was one compact well-made cheese ... The vines have grapes upon them, which yield not wine, but milk." --A True Story (2nd century) by Lucian

"You have no need to have read Payne Knight, or Louis Viardot, or John Ruskin, to be able to understand Mont Blanc. The Grands Mulets and the Mer de Glace would interest the merest clodhopper. This is the reason why Switzerland is with travellers an universal favourite. You can’t wrangle about the conflict of styles in a precipice; the odium theologicum has nothing to lay hold of in an avalanche."--Rome and Venice: With Other Wanderings in Italy, in 1866-7 (1869) by George Augustus Sala

The Map of Tendre (Carte du Tendre)
The Map of Tendre (Carte du Tendre)

Related e



Travel literature is travel writing considered to have value as literature. Travel literature typically records the people, events, sights and feelings of an author who is touring a foreign place for the pleasure of travel. An individual work is sometimes called a travelogue or itinerary.

To be called literature the work must have a coherent narrative, or insights and value, beyond a mere logging of dates and events, such as diary or ship's log. Literature that recounts adventure, exploration and conquest is often grouped under travel literature, but it also has its own genre outdoor literature; these genres will often overlap with no definite boundaries. This article focuses on literature that is more akin to tourism.



imaginary voyage

Fictional travelogues make up a large proportion of travel literature. Although it may be desirable in some contexts to distinguish fictional from non-fictional works, such distinctions have proved notoriously difficult to make in practice, as in the famous instance of the travel writings of Marco Polo or John Mandeville. Many "fictional" works of travel literature are based on factual journeys – Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and presumably, Homer's Odyssey (c. 8th century BCE) – while other works, though based on imaginary and even highly fantastic journeys – Dante's Divine Comedy, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Voltaire's Candide or Samuel Johnson's The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia – nevertheless contain factual elements.

Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957) and The Dharma Bums (1958) are fictionalized accounts of his travels across the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s.


Early examples of travel literature include Pausanias' Description of Greece in the 2nd century CE, Safarnama (book of Travels) of Nasir Khusraw (1003-1077) the Journey Through Wales (1191) and Description of Wales (1194) by Gerald of Wales, and the travel journals of Ibn Jubayr (1145–1214) and Ibn Battuta (1304–1377), both of whom recorded their travels across the known world in detail. The travel genre was a fairly common genre in medieval Arabic literature.

Il Milione, The Travels of Marco Polo, describing Marco Polo's travels through Asia between 1271 and 1295 is a classic of travel literature.

Travel literature became popular during the Song dynasty (960–1279) of medieval China. The genre was called 'travel record literature' (遊記文學 yóujì wénxué), and was often written in narrative, prose, essay and diary style. Travel literature authors such as Fan Chengda (1126–1193) and Xu Xiake (1587–1641) incorporated a wealth of geographical and topographical information into their writing, while the 'daytrip essay' Record of Stone Bell Mountain by the noted poet and statesman Su Shi (1037–1101) presented a philosophical and moral argument as its central purpose.

One of the earliest known records of taking pleasure in travel, of travelling for the sake of travel and writing about it, is Petrarch's (1304–1374) ascent of Mount Ventoux in 1336. He states that he went to the mountaintop for the pleasure of seeing the top of the famous height. His companions who stayed at the bottom he called frigida incuriositas ("a cold lack of curiosity"). He then wrote about his climb, making allegorical comparisons between climbing the mountain and his own moral progress in life.

Michault Taillevent, a poet for the Duke of Burgundy, travelled through the Jura Mountains in 1430 and recorded his personal reflections, his horrified reaction to the sheer rock faces, and the terrifying thunderous cascades of mountain streams. Antoine de la Sale (c. 1388–c. 1462), author of Petit Jehan de Saintre, climbed to the crater of a volcano in the Lipari Islands in 1407, leaving us with his impressions. "Councils of mad youth" were his stated reasons for going. In the mid-15th century, Gilles le Bouvier, in his Livre de la description des pays, gave us his reason to travel and write:

Because many people of diverse nations and countries delight and take pleasure, as I have done in times past, in seeing the world and things therein, and also because many wish to know without going there, and others wish to see, go, and travel, I have begun this little book.

By the 16th century accounts to travels to India and Persia had become common enough that they had been compiled into collections such as the Novus Orbis ("New World") by Simon Grynaeus, and collections by Ramusio and Richard Hakluyt. In 1589, Hakluyt (c. 1552–1616) published Voyages. 16th century travelers to Persia included the brothers Robert Shirley and Anthony Shirley, and for India Duarte Barbosa, Ralph Fitch, Ludovico di Varthema, Cesare Federici, and Jan Huyghen van Linschoten.

In the 18th century, travel literature was commonly known as the book of travels, which mainly consisted of maritime diaries. In 18th-century Britain, almost every famous writer worked in the travel literature form. Captain James Cook's diaries (1784) were the equivalent of today's best-sellers. Alexander von Humboldt's Personal narrative of travels to the equinoctial regions of America, during the years 1799–1804, originally published in French, was translated to multiple languages and influenced later naturalists, including Charles Darwin.

Other later examples of travel literature include accounts of the Grand Tour. Aristocrats, clergy, and others with money and leisure time travelled Europe to learn about the art and architecture of its past. One tourism literature pioneer was Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) with An Inland Voyage (1878), and Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), about his travels in the Cévennes (France), is among the first popular books to present hiking and camping as recreational activities, and tells of commissioning one of the first sleeping bags.

Other notable writers of travel literature in the 19th century include the Russian Ivan Goncharov, who wrote about his experience of a tour around the world in Frigate "Pallada" (1858), and Lafcadio Hearn, who interpreted the culture of Japan with insight and sensitivity.

The 20th century's interwar period has been described as a heyday of travel literature when many established writers such as Graham Greene, Robert Byron, Rebecca West, Freya Stark, Peter Fleming and Evelyn Waugh were traveling and writing notable travel books.

In the late 20th century there was a surge in popularity of travel writing, particularly in the English-speaking world with writers such as Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, Jonathan Raban, Colin Thubron, and others. While travel writing previously had mainly attracted interest by historians and biographers, critical studies of travel literature now also developed into an academic discipline in its own right.

Notable travel writers and travel literature

The Royal Road to Romance, The Flying Carpet, New Worlds to Conquer, The Glorious Adventure, Seven League Boots

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Travel literature" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools