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travel Writing


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Early examples of travel writing widely popular in Britain included the fabulous 14th‐cent. travel book ascribed to Sir John Mandeville, and the supposedly factual accounts of Marco Polo's journey to China. The great Elizabethan age of navigation, and the discovery of the Americas and the West Indies, produced the reports of Hakluyt, Ralegh, Drake, and others, which were widely read and continued to inspire novelists and poets, particularly during the Romantic period. In the 17th cent. Coryate's accounts of his travels through Europe and on to India established his reputation as one of the first great British eccentrics of the genre. Travellers at home, whose works have been of lasting historical and social value, include Fiennes, Defoe, and Cobbett. The 18th cent. produced the literature and art of the Grand Tour. The Victorian traveller ventured far afield, sometimes, like Livingstone, in the guise of a missionary‐explorer. Several women writers and travellers of this period made lasting names for themselves; examples include Mary Kingsley (1862–1900) and Isabella Bird.

Travel writing developed into a genre in its own right in the 19th and 20th cents: British writers have been particularly attracted to the Arab countries of the Middle East (see e.g. Kinglake; Stark; Thesiger). In recent decades the form has continued to flourish: distinguished practitioners include Norman Lewis; Jan Morris; Eric Newby, author of many works based round the Mediterranean; and Gavin Young (1928–2001). Theroux, Chatwin, Thubron, and Raban in the 1970s and early 1980s found radically different approaches to new and old material as the age of mass tourism impinged on the territory of the solitary travel writer. Since then, in notable additions to and variations on the canon, American author Bill Bryson has explored England; Redmond O'Hanlon (1947– ) has travelled up the Congo and the Amazon and visited Borneo with J. Fenton (Into the Heart of Borneo, 1984); the Australian Robyn Davidson (1951– ) has crossed the Australian desert on a camel (Tracks, 1980); and poets S. Armitage and G. Maxwell have visited Iceland in the footsteps of Auden and MacNeice (Moon Country, 1996).

Subjects: Literature.


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