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Sampling the writings of travelers who refused to be tourists

By Gail Pool / December 31, 1987



The Norton Book of Travel, edited by Paul Fussell. New York: W.W. Norton. 832 pp. $19.95. Like the death of the novel, the end of genuine travel and travel writing has been forecast for decades. E.M. Forster saw the end coming in 1920; Evelyn Waugh in the '30s and again in the '60s; and Paul Fussell wrote in 1980, ``I am assuming that travel is now impossible and that tourism is all we have left.''

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The word ``travel'' has a certain dignity. ``Tourist'' is decidedly pejorative. For Waugh, the tourist is he who ``debauches the great monuments of antiquity,'' who is ``a comic figure, always inapt in his comments, incongruous in his appearance....'' But Waugh, with the humor of one who traveled ``when the going was good,'' could add that, of course, ``We are travellers and cosmopolitans; the tourist is the other fellow.''

Today, with not only tourism, but also terrorism, industrialism, and a slew of other isms abroad, the going is not so good, and few would argue with Fussell's conclusion that ``real'' travel's heyday has come to a close.

What was real travel and how has travel writing evolved today? The first question, Fussell answers beautifully through his anthology's selections and the narrative he provides. The second question he answers only partway - as if he'd run out of steam or lacked the heart to talk at length about an era that could actually produce a book subtitled, ``Around the World in a Bad Mood.''

The genre did not spring to life full-grown. The ancient world had explorers and tourists but not true travelers. Linking the three groups, Fussell suggests, is the impulse to learn by traveling. But their motives and methods differ. Ancient explorers traveled in search of unknown territory, ancient tourists in search of manmade wonders, but for both the journey was an outward adventure, and their accounts were records of externals.

Even in the early 18th century, ``travel'' writing had an outward focus. Indeed, Fussell suggests the trend was accentuated by the acceptance of John Locke's theory that ``knowledge comes entirely through the external senses, and from the mind's later contemplation of materials laid up in the memory as a result of sense experience.'' From this argument came the idea that observation is in itself educational and also the idea that you could ``exhaust'' an environment - observe it all - which made travel imperative. Hence, the educational Grand Tour for the era's upper classes, and their closely observed accounts of their journeys.

Fussell's selections from these earlier periods demonstrate his point. Whatever the pleasures in reading the works of Herodotus or Marco Polo - and there are many - we miss their personal response to what they are seeing.

It is only in the later 18th century, as the concept of ``personality'' develops, that travel writing becomes not simply an account of places, but also a record of response - an interior journey - and emerges as a literary genre.