What is Travel Literature?
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Travel Literature Definition
Travel literature is a kind of travel writing having some significance and literary values. An individual’s travel experience is called a travelogue. The literary travelogues exhibit coherent narratives. It has also aesthetic values.
History of Travel Literature
The study of travel writing become more mature in the late 1990s, encouraged by the currency of Foucauldian criticism and Edward Said’s landmark study Orientalism.
The first international travel writing conference on the topic “Snapshots from Abroad” was organized by Donald Ross at the University of Minnesota in 1997. The gathering of one hundred scholars from different countries led to the foundation of the “International Society for travel Writing”. (ISTW).
The first issue of studies in Travel Writing was published the same year edited by eminent scholar Tim Young. Annual scholarly conferences about travel writing, held in different countries and continents like USA, Europe and Asia. This led to unprecedented upswing in the number of published travel literature monographs and essay collections, as well as a proliferation of travel writing anthologies.
Travel writing is a literary genre that has, as its focus, accounts of real or imaginary places. This genre encompasses a number of styles that may range from the documentary to the evocative, from literary to journalistic, and from humorous to the serious. Travel writing is a long-established literary format. An early example is the writing of Pausanias, a celebrated author of 2nd century A.D., who produced his Description of Greece based on his own observations.
The more recent example can be cited is Che Guevara‘s The Motorcycle Diaries. The genesis of travel literature is very common in Arabic literature. The travelogues of Ibn Jubayr (1145-1214) and Ibn Batutta (The Rihila)(1304-1377), both these travellers, recorded their travels across the known world in detail.
The Travels of Marco Polo (II Milione), describing Marco Polo’s travels through Asia between 1271 and 1295 is a classic of travel literature
Michault Taillevent, (1388-1462) a noted poet of the Duke of Burgundy, travelled through the Jura Mountains in 1430. The author of Petit Jehan de Saintre, climbed to the crater of a volcano in the Lipari Island in 1407 and gave his authentic writings.
Best Travel Literature Books
Travel literature often intersects with essay writing, as in V.S. Naipaul’s India: A Wounded Civilization, where a trip becomes the occasion for extended observation on a nation and people. This can be also traced in the writings of Rebecca West’s work on Yugoshlavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Sometimes a writer stays for an extended period, studies minutely everything with his own sensibility and writes about his journey examples of such writings include Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons, Deborah Tall’s The Island of the White Cow and Peter Mayle’s best selling A Year in Provence and its sequels Literary travel writing, also occurs when any author, famous in the field of literature, travels and writes about his or her own expedition. Bruce Chatwin’s widely acclaimed In Patagonia is also a good example of Travel Literature,
Travel Literature Writers
Examples of such writers are Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Mary Wallstonecraft, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hillarire Belloc, D.H. Lawrence, Rebecca-West and John Steinbeck, Gilles le Bourier, in his Livre de la description des pays gave the reason to write travel literature and says:
“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.”
India : A Wounded Civilization as a Travel Literature
V.S. Naipaul, the noted novelist has written the memorable travelogue India : A Wounded Civilization from August 1975 to October 1976. Indian was reeling under the Emergency rule since June 25, 1975. Naipaul has strange fascination for this nation. He had visited earlier to India to search the truth of the mystic land which was narrated to him by his ancestors. His ancestors belonged to Gangestic plain in Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi. Naipaul belong to brahamin caste. They were taken to Caribbean Island by the English. After his visit of India, he witnessed the deep wound in the social and religious life. The soul of Indian Civilization was deeply wounded. The civilization which boasted of her glory, in fact, has nothing but emptiness and shallowness. Naipaul was deeply distressed to see this grim truth of India. This is one of the most accurate and authentic description on Indian life written by an expatriate Indian author. He has described every aspects of India and Indian life with sincerity and honesty. Louis Heren in The Time says about the travelogue:
“A devastating work, but proof that a novelist of Mr. Naipaul’s stature can often define problems quicker and more effectively than a team of economists and other experts from the World Bank.”
In this travelogue, Naipaul has described about different people and their social life. Their economic condition and the cultural life have been depicted. Naipaul visited the ruins of Vijayanagar, Bihar, Rajasthan, Bombay and Pune. He saw the political unrest of the country. The fast deteriorating civilization of India did not escape his sharp eyes. Naipaul was highly astonished to see the sharp decline in the intellectual make up of the people of India. India as a nation need to rectify her if she desires to come out of her serious wound. New Statesman the newspaper says:
“What he saw and heard – evoked so superbly and vividly in his book-only reinforced his conviction that India, wounded by a thousand years of foreign rule, has still not found an ideology of regeneration.”
Naipaul has depicted India with full honesty and sincerity. The overdose of hypocrisy shown by Indian people concerning their culture has been highlighted by Naipaul.