Travel Writing

Muireann O’Cinneide

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
Travel Writing


Fueled by transport improvements and expanding British global influence, Victorian travel writing emerged in the period as a commercially popular and successful genre, which became a predominantly middle-class preserve. Journeys of missionaries and merchants fostered colonial expansion, while as the British Empire grew in scope, so too did the travels of its administrators and soldiers. Increasing popular interest in scientific, geographical, and anthropological research meant that travelogues could serve as accounts of individual experience, instructions for future travelers, advice on imperial administration, religious admonition, reports on scientific discoveries, or a combination of all these possibilities. Many prominent Victorian novelists also wrote travel accounts (as well as incorporating elements of their travels in their fiction): the best-known of these include Charles Dickens (b. 1812–d. 1870), Anthony Trollope (b. 1815–d. 1882), and William Thackeray (b. 1811–d. 1863). The late Victorian period of imperial expansion saw a particularly close relationship between travel writing and the successful colonial adventure stories of writers such as Henry Rider Haggard (b. 1856–d. 1925), Rudyard Kipling (b. 1865–d. 1936), and Robert Louis Stevenson (b. 1850–d. 1894). Individual travelers such as the adventurer and scholar Richard Burton (b. 1821–d. 1890), the missionary David Livingstone (b. 1813–d. 1873), and the explorer Henry Morton Stanley (b. 1841–d. 1904), became near-legendary figures. Widening opportunities for travel extended also to women such as Isabella Bird (b. 1831–d. 1904) and Mary Kingsley (b. 1862–d. 1900). Until recent decades, Victorian travel writing received relatively little critical attention, possibly due to the ambiguity of its generic status. Increased interest from the 1970s onward in literature’s involvement in cultural and political constructions enabled more attention to be paid to travel writing as a genre. This was particularly the case for postcolonial studies: ironically, enhanced critical awareness of the implication of travel and travel writing in colonial power structures gave it new life as a serious object of academic study. Initially positive “recoveries” of travelers who were comparatively marginalized figures in Victorian society, such as women, gave way to more wary considerations of the rhetorical work performed by their texts. Whereas earlier criticism considered travel writing in the context of the politics of representation, particularly in relation to the depiction of intercultural contact, more recent work has emphasized the fluidity of its genre positioning and the implications of the act of travel for individual, national, and spatial concepts of identity. There has also been greater critical concern with countering the metropolis-periphery model of British Victorian travel writing by investigating the works of travelers from different locations within the empire, and their accounts of journeys to other colonies and to England itself.

Article.  21643 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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