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Modernist Visions

‘Times of Unbelief’: Staging the Rise and Fall of British Travel Writing During the Interwar Period

« Le Temps du Doute » : la mise en scène du déclin et du renouveau du récit de voyage britannique dans l’entre-deux-guerres
Horatiu Burcea


À l’aide d’exemples tirés de l’œuvre d’auteurs de voyages de cette période (Greene, Fleming, Stark, Auden, Isherwood, etc.), cet article vise à examiner la mise en scène de la « mort du voyage » dans la Grande-Bretagne de l’Entre-deux-Guerres aboutissant ultimement à une renaissance. Cette dernière passe notamment par la négation, la fragmentation et/ou la suraccumulation de conventions, mais aussi leur dépassement et leur réinterprétation, conduisant à une réinvention du genre. Cette révolution littéraire (comprise en termes d’innovation mais aussi de réitération cyclique) a contribué au succès remarquable de l’écriture de voyage pendant l’entre-deux-guerres et explique sa valeur emblématique dans l’histoire littéraire britannique.

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‘In times of unbelief, which soon have to become times of revolution, much down-rushing, sorrowful decay and ruin is visible to everybody.’
Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, 1840.

They were dull days. I suppose one’s first revolution—like one’s first experience of anything to which one brings preconceptions coloured by literature and the drama—is always rather disappointing.
Peter Fleming, Brazilian Adventure, 1933.

1During the first half of the 20th century, territorial exploration became more or less finalised, and most of the British travel writers of this period—one that Fussell paradoxically refers to as a Golden Age (Fussell 202–215)—express the feeling of evolving in a world where everything is déjà-vu, fully captured through sign and symbol, a world where exoticism and adventure are now either lost or inaccessible, and where travel narratives are invariably condemned to reproduce romanticised and stereotyped images of otherness.

2D. H. Lawrence thus writes: ‘I feel sometimes I shall go mad because there is nowhere to go, no ’new world’’ (Meyers 268). Graham Greene speaks of the impossibility of considering any other journey than one which would be ‘parallel’ to those of his predecessors (Greene 2011, 47–48). Speaking of irreversible change and disenchantment, Freya Stark writes ‘Herodotus mentions winged serpents that guard [the sacred tree] and fly to Egypt every spring . [. . .] But the caravan route is dead now, and the incense region has dwindled’ (Stark 11). W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood strive to ‘derealise’ and ‘displace’ their narratives, to use Frédéric Regard’s terms, as if the ‘real thing’ were both impalpable and ultimately ridiculous and dull. Peter Fleming in turn seeks to demystify travel, insisting on the bathos which originates not only from the inescapable déjà-vu but also from the failures of political and artistic revolutions to bring any positive change, instead creating a pendular and individualistic alternation between apathy and speed, hope and disillusionment, over-stimulation and absence of feeling.

3This perceived decline in terms of heroism, usefulness, intrepidity and authenticity partly explains the disillusionment that permeates the writings of many of the travel writers of this period (Greene, Waugh, Stark, Fleming, Auden, Isherwood, Orwell, Lawrence, etc.), who speak of a historical point of no-return where escapism, wonderment and exoticism are all the more valuable and desirable that they have become increasingly unreachable.

4This paper seeks to analyse these literary postures in relation to national and transnational phenomena—the democratisation of tourism, the evolution of currents of thought (especially the modernist pursuit of tabula rasa, the questioning of romantic canons and the delegitimisation of essentialist and orientalist discourses), the traumatic shock caused by the Great War, the expansion and professionalisation of the sciences—but also, and most importantly, as a purely rhetorical strategy: the aim of skilfully reactivating one’s sensitivity, curiosity, desire for escapism and thirst for ordalic risk-taking through a discourse that carefully stages and rhetorically exacerbates their continuous repression. Overall, these postures create an increasingly palpable tension that inevitably forces these travel writers and their readers to dig beneath the surface of a spatial and discursive horizon which is far too smooth and enlightened to be real.

Card Tricks

5The motif of the incomplete map finds a multitude echoes in British literature and it is undeniably valuable when attempting to grasp the Interwar malaise caused by its subjective disappearance. Among adventure narratives, Stevenson’s Treasure Island certainly stands out as an unavoidable reference, notably because of the symbolic power of the awe-inspiring treasure map:

The doctor opened the seals with great care, and there fell out the map of an island, with latitude and longitude, soundings, names of hills, and bays and inlets, and every particular that would be needed to bring a ship to a safe anchorage upon its shores. [. . .] There were several additions of a later date; but, above all, three crosses of red ink—two on the north part of the island, one in the south-west, and beside this last, in the same red ink, and in a small, neat hand, very different from the captain’s tottery characters, these words: ‘Bulk of treasure here’ [. . .]. (Stevenson 53)

6One finds here a combination between two maps, i.e.: between two realities that overlap. The first represents the scientific and ‘objective’ knowledge of the seas; the second is an intimate, profound knowledge of a particular island, which adds to the first and creates a new ‘layer’ of meaning that enhances the value and the existing significance of the topos. One is thus not only depicting a journey of discovery and initiation, but also the process of literary creation and its reception.

7The teleological path leading to gold, an archetypal literary motif par excellence, sets in motion a protagonist seeking initiation and discovery whose achievements are an opportunity for both material and spiritual enrichment. It may also be a way for an author to depict his/her creative process in an autobiographical and reflexive manner; that is to say, to associate the story of travel with the unveiling of an intimate sphere and to ‘reflect’ (on) his/her creative process. These two cartographic metaphors, that of a division of the world map between zones of emptiness and fullness, and that of a superposition of public and private spaces that gradually accumulate and deepen, represent two ways to apprehend topographic exteriority. The first model is horizontal and a priori finite; it suggests a process of expansion ultimately reaching completion. The second is vertical and potentially infinite; it constitutes a densification of the map which is seen not only to acquire an upper layer—through the superposition of the new map—but also a new depth, the buried treasure to unearth.

8Nearly half a century later, the generation of realistic travel writers of the interwar period will both integrate and ultimately seek to overcome these traditional models (Faktorovich 165–178), a generation which often emphasises the feeling of disenchantment emerging from the increasing incredulity—even aversion—one may feel in relation to these romanticised visions of travel, adventure, discovery and prowess. The map has now become far too crowded with signs and symbols, and the ‘digging’ for novelty and literary treasure has become more and more sterile and tedious, or so it seems for the many writers who lament the omnipresence of déjà-vu and the death of authentic escape.

9Yet, this generation has a vital thing in common: Lawrence, Waugh, Orwell, Stark, Byron, Greene, Isherwood, Auden, Bell, Fleming and many others have a fervent attraction for travelling and/or living abroad, in many cases perilously, to such an extent that the few writers who remain in Britain at this period are considered as peculiar exceptions to the rule. Coined by Fussell, the notion of ‘the British Literary Diaspora’ has become generalised to designate this generation of Interwar authors, highlighting the importance of travel and escape for them:

Lawrence can be seen as merely the vanguard of the British Literary Diaspora, the great flight of writers from England in the 20’s and 30’s which deposited Gerald Brenan in Spain and Robert Graves in Majorca; Norman Douglas in Capri, Naples, and Florence, and Lawrence Durrell in Corfu; Aldous Huxley in California, Christopher Isherwood in Berlin and California, and W. H. Auden, finally, in New York; Bertrand Russell in China and Russia; Somerset Maugham and Katherine Mansfield on the Riviera; . . . . On Corfu in 1936, Durrell, writing home for news, asked the pressing question, and in capitals: ‘IS THERE NO ONE WRITING AT ALL IN ENGLAND NOW?’ This diaspora seems one of the signals of literary modernism, as we can infer from virtually no modern writer’s remaining where he’s ‘supposed’ to be except perhaps Proust. (Fussell 11)

10The accumulation of names and destinations is meant to evoke their scattering, their continual travels, the multiculturality of their identities as well as, more implicitly, the techniques of cutting and gluing which they so often favour. As an example, the poets W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice include in their Letters from Iceland the following verses:

Some out of focus, some with wrong exposures,
         Press cuttings, gossip, maps, statistics, graphs;
         I don’t intend to do the thing by halves.
I’m going to be very up to date indeed.
It is a collage that you’re going to read. (Auden and MacNiece 115)

  • 1 See Robert Burden, Travel, Modernism and Modernity, Routledge, 2016.

11Continuous journeys, escapism, historical breaks, collages and photographic clippings, fragmentation of discourse, superimposition of points of view, cultural hybridity, intertextuality, dissenting discourses and the determination to reinvent literary canons are all part of the literary mosaic of that period.1 Auden and MacNiece humorously illustrate how these imbalanced and scattered fragments are both a source of unity and incoherence: they mean to innovate artistically thanks to the overproduction of déjà-vu, to make the refusal of conventionality something systematic, and most importantly—the two authors ironically insist on this point—to refuse ‘to do the thing by halves’, when in fact they are in this case literally trying to break up discourse, convention and meaning.

12While overgeneralisations should be avoided, most members of this generation of travel writers were indeed confronted with these same contradictions and internal struggles, which fed their inspirations and created a play of mirrors where the criticism of normative discourses was made because of (and at the same time through) the accumulation of topoi. Many of them shared a desire for revolution in terms of historical rupture and a profound scepticism towards (Victorian) models of prowess and manhood, intellectualism and elitism, imperialist propaganda and the scientistic discourses of progress. Yet, they often were aware of the systemic tendency of their own revolutions, and repudiation and repetition of these models intermix in their writings and practices. As Orwell perhaps best illustrated, some of the most brilliant and defiant minds of the time ended up rebelling against rebellion itself, and at times humbly admitted the deep and excruciating attraction they (still) felt to what they had so often mocked and discarded as obsolete myths and childish fairy-tales (Makin 145).

Conrad’s Prediction

13Another widely influential literary reference on Interwar travel writers’ staging of the end of travel is Conrad’s iconic foretelling of the rarefaction of ‘blank spaces’ on world maps, namely in relation to this other iconic passage:

True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery—a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness. (Conrad 11)

14In Conrad’s text, the intense contemplation of the imperfect map and the comings and goings between different connotations and contradictory emotions—light-darkness, attraction-repulsion, development-corruption—end up disorienting and capturing the imagination of the young observer, like a prey obsessed by the river-snake simultaneously majestic and lethal. At the same time, despite the deceptiveness of this manipulation, the unknown genuinely becomes the source of an exhilarating resolution and the opportunity for a fateful revelation: ‘When I grow up, I’ll go there’ (Conrad 11).

15The growth and development of the child as a precondition (‘when I grow up’), and spatial displacement as a consequence of this maturation (‘I will go there’) can—and will—be implicitly reversed in terms of meaning and syntax: the initial declamation also invites to consider the equally valid and necessary alternative: when I go there, I will grow up. In this context, the ultimate purpose of travel, beyond a linear and teleological movement, is the activation and perpetuation of a revolution, i.e. a renewable cycle that allows one to overcome the finiteness of travel and the irreversibility of maturing.

16Around thirty years later, Peter Fleming evoked this same exhilarating feeling of resolution, yet also emphasizing the loss, desacralisation and imbalance emerging from the eventual deconstruction of its mechanisms:

The earth, which once danced and spun before us as alluring as a celluloid ball on top of a fountain in a rifle-range, is now a dull and vulnerable target; nor do we get, for hitting it in the right place, the manicure set or the packet of Edinburgh rock which formerly rewarded good marksmanship. All along the line we have been forestalled, and forestalled by better men than we. Only the born tourist—happy, goggling ruminant—can follow in their tracks with the conviction that he is not wasting his time. (Fleming 2001, 12)

17The metaphor is uncoincidentally that of shooting, or more precisely training at a shooting range: one compares the terrestrial globe to a ‘target’ previously attractive because it had been distant and almost supernaturally inaccessible, having now become a source of boredom and disillusionment. The vibrant and fantastic old world, a celluloid ball floating magically at the top of a fountain, gives way to a disenchanted modern world, devoid of any mystery or struggle.

18A central piece of the puzzle is his insistence on the artificiality of the desire for exploration and adventure from its very origins: one does not speak here of a wild nature suddenly corrupted or distorted by civilising modernity, but rather of a simulacrum, initially well-hidden, whose mechanics were gradually understood and ultimately unmasked. Human agency is completely omitted, as the architecture of this theatrical venue—built to captivate its actors as much as its spectators—is now almost completely empty. Having lost their drive, budding adventurers and aspiring explorers now resemble jaded passers-by, walking along a gigantic world-corridor dotted with carnival stands where only the youngest or the most credulous customers still suffer the damning cost of paying to shoot.

  • 2 For considerations on how these archetypal models are reinterpreted by female travel writers of the (...)

19Fleming also stresses here the autobiographical importance of his dreams of adventure and the burial of their roots in his early childhood. In Brazilian Adventure, he describes this taste as a ‘male’ predisposition shared by the majority of his peers: ‘The facts are that four male children out of five start in favour of adventure. This has always been so, and it is so to-day’ (Fleming 1998, 33). Here we find this same reversibility between the cause and the consequence of the journey in terms of personal development: to grow up in order to leave, to leave in order to grow up (even more) and by extension affirm one’s maturity and virility so that the cycle may continue.2

20It is not only the child who is supposed to become an adult through the adventure trip but also the adult who desires to reconnect with the dreams, the curiosity and the potential wonderment of the child. In spite of their perpetual detachment, Fleming and many other British writers of his generation nourish a strong contradiction between an intense desire for initiation, maturation and recognition, and a pronounced refusal to grow up, showing through their phlegmatic attitude, their amateurism, their anti-heroism and hypo-masculinity that they refuse to consider their travel experiences as initiatory points of no return.

21The child state can be seen as both departure and arrival, a process which Jung called ‘renatus in novam infantiam’ (Jung 3686). The complementarity between spatial displacement and identity development rests in this context not only on the confrontation with the unknown and the Other as factors of maturation and revelation of identity but also on the cyclical—dialectical—alternation of the causal and temporal order between the perfectible subject and the formative course. The explicit amateurism, the bathos, the blasé and superior postures, reveal in many cases a deep desire for self-affirmation conflicting with the hope of staying or returning to the state of a child, a state where the incompleteness of maps would echo that of one’s own nature, allowing true liberation through reversal growth and the consequential reactivation of all potentialities.

The Age of Experts

22The representation of a world entirely mapped out should also be considered as the relatively straightforward depiction of a set of concrete innovations and socio-economic changes occurring during the first half of the 20th century. Among the wide range of factors one may refer to, critical developments in the field of exploration, geography and territorial mapping were undeniably major stepping stones, symbolising the globalisation and modernisation of a world that became perceptibly smaller and more familiar than it had ever been. Among all the relevant factors, the increasing utilisation of aerial photography definitely deserves special mention here, and it is precisely during the 1930s that this superior mapping method became more efficiently and systematically used. While the technology reached its full potential only after 1945, it was during the interwar period that it acquired predominance (Burt 549–551).

23This development concurred with other technological advances, notably the creation of better cameras and films, along with proper stabilisation mechanisms. These combined improvements came at a cost however, i.e. an increasing dependency on technology, not only furthering the discrepancy between the old, often romanticised visons of adventurers or explorers and modern scientists, but seemingly doing away with the equally romanticised idea that Odyssean qualities could ever be adequate enough for the task of exploring and mapping the globe. On this point, Fleming writes:

But the age of geographical discovery has gone, and so has the age of territorial annexation. Experts are quietly consolidating the gains of spectacular amateurs. In Darien to-day a pair of eagle eyes is not much good unless you have also a theodolite. A wild surmise will not do.
(Fleming 1998, 32)

24The end of ‘the age of geographical discovery’ coincides here with technological innovation and scientific revolution, but what is really meant is not that every territory has literally been fully mapped out, or become inaccessible, but rather that a profound change definitely altered how exploration and territorial mapping should be done, and, perhaps most importantly, the way it should now (no longer) be narrated.

25The term ‘expert’ loosely refers in this context to diverse types of scientists such as the aforementioned topographer, but also, taxonomists, on whom Fleming later writes:

I am indeed ignorant (whether strangely or not I will not presume to say) of scientific terminology. [. . .] But about ten years ago I discovered, quite by chance, that the scientific name for the Harlequin Duck is Histrionicus histrionicus histrionicus; and ever since that day I have found it impossible, I don’t know why, to treat ornithologists’ Latin with the respect it deserves. (Fleming 1998, 131–132)

26This anecdote deals with the traveller’s ambivalent relationship to science. It is well known that the motive of the bird symbolises exoticism and freedom, not only in literature but also in artistic iconography, especially when it comes to representing paradise or the new world. Although the harlequin duck is not an exotic bird for the European reader, on the contrary, his name does not fail to evoke bright and shimmering colours, a connotation he shares with the archetypal literary character.

27The transition between such an evocative name and scientific terminology is narrated as a sort of tragicomic drama. Fleming plays the role of an involuntary witness to a public exposure: that of the animal to which one forcibly withdraws his coloured plumage, and by extension that of the dramatic character suddenly demasked in front of his audience. Through this anecdote, which is supposed to reinforce his nonchalance as well as his ignorance and contempt for scientific categorisation, he seems to express for a moment sincere regret in relation to the demythication of this evocative symbol.

28The erosion of the symbolic and aesthetic dimensions of language is not the only problem posed by the systematic use of categorisation; it is also related to the modern erasure of individuality for both the scientist and the literary writer. In the ternary repetition—Histrionicus, histrionicus, histrionicus—all the madness and explosiveness suggested by the term gushes out as quickly as it dulls, until it resembles an unintelligible stammering removing any possibility of distinguishing a harlequin from another. This is the dilemma of the modern traveller in Fleming’s eyes: if he wants to be a scientist, he must patiently and anonymously follow the task of fragmenting, mummifying, and stamping the unknown; if he wants to be an innovator, he is forced to evolve amid the deafening racket of his peers, these other Homo, homo, homo who form a flamboyant and chaotic crowd in which he has no legitimate reason nor any real chance to be considered as worthy of notice.

29These two paths ultimately lead to the same result: a loss of direction, meaning, and identity. And yet the author-traveller does not give up the ambition to stand out from the crowd and find himself, if not thanks to his superior character, at least thanks to a philosophical acceptance of his own anonymity and insignificance, one he wishes to demonstrate time and time again:

We did not avail ourselves of these opportunities; we were no specialists. The world’s stock of knowledge—geographical, ethnological, meteorological, what you will—gained nothing from our journey. Nor did we mean that it should. [. . .] We measured no skulls, we took no readings; we would have not known how. (Fleming 2001, 11–12)

30There is a striking correspondence in this passage between the absence of inventory and the inventory of absence. The ‘opportunities’ ignored and/or inaccessible are deviations that line the main path of the traveller’s route. These successive negations are represented as a multitude of alternatives and possible additions, sometimes as barriers, sometimes as forced passages, whose selective overabundance and abandon reinforce an impression of freedom and frankness on the part of the narrator, while the feeling of not going anywhere—or at least neglecting all these topoi—becomes a way to get straight to the point while leaving the door open to all possibilities. This is what Fleming calls ‘truth without facts’.

31In this sense, the enumeration of all this unexplored ground paradoxically reinforces the idea of a wealth of spaces (re)explorable in terms of potentiality. It is a way of declaring: there is / was so much to see, there is / was so much to say, but I did not see, and I will not say. It is a way of establishing limitation and absence as the basic qualities of his narrative, of showing how this story potentially hides a hundred other paths, faces and alternative discourses, and that the reality beyond what is narrated here is much richer, glistening and diversified, contrary to the many declarations of disenchantment and ageusia of the narrator. The reactivation of the unknown thus passes through the enjoyment of loss, the reactivation of potentiality, the valorisation of what can be (seen and narrated) thanks to what has been neglected. This rhetorical strategy is crucial to understanding the emergence of these negations as positive sources of (re)discovery, and to explaining why the staging of the end of travel is indissociable from its rebirth.

An Ordinary Need for Change

32Lastly, the other major development that deserves notice in this case is that of mass tourism, which definitely booms during the Interwar period, not only seeing a massive global growth in terms of infrastructure and economic investment but also increased demand, especially in Britain, following the rigid restrictions that most Western European countries experienced during the Great War. While many travel writers at the time seek to ridicule the figure of the tourist and distance themselves from it, some also choose to identify with it, most often as a means to achieve self-irony, as Evelyn Waugh does in A Tourist in Africa.

33Tourists in the 1930s do not only start impacting more and more the quality and quantity of travel in terms of economic consumption but also change the way travelogues are produced and marketed. One such adaptation was to produce travel writings to be enjoyed during travel itself (especially by train or boat) since, perhaps unsurprisingly, there were so many opportunities to be idle while one waited to reach one’s to destination, stuck in these heterotopic spaces marked by unavoidable waiting. Another example of such development is the success of the Wide World Magazine, mentioned in many of the major travel writings of the time, like Greene’s Stamboul Train:

The train was very full, he said, though Myatt knew he lied. April was too early in the year for crowded carriages, and he had seen few first-class passengers on the Channel steamer. While he argued, a bevy of tourists scrambled down the corridor, middle-aged ladies clutching shawls and rugs and sketchbooks, an old clergyman complaining that he had mislaid his Wide World Magazine—‘I always read a Wide World when I travel’—and in the rear, perspiring, genial under difficulties, their conductor wearing the button of an agency. (Greene 2010, 6)

34In Greene’s narrative, it is a form of annoyance—if not the manifestation of a dependency—that arises from the unfortunate misplacement of the periodical. Without it, the pleasure of the real journey seems completely compromised for the old clergyman, as if both activities had to be combined and gave each other meaning. It is also the inclusion of a mise en abyme is his novel, which serves the ambivalent purpose of emphasising its higher literary quality, in comparison, and at the same time showcasing a general decline, a contamination of the genre which ironically negates modern pretensions to literariness.

  • 3 ‘The astonishing transformation of the publishing industry was one of the more interesting direct o (...)

35The emergence of a more and more marked complementarity between travel literature and literature for travel (particularly with respect to the development and democratization of rail transport) is particularly relevant to the perceived desacralisation (through over-consumption) of travel3 and travelogues. For the traveller-writers of this period, this popularised thirst for ‘parallel journeys’, to use Greene’s expression, is an additional proof that adventure has become routine, and travel narratives, to an extent, a dispensable consumer good. The consequence is thus not only the romanticising of ordinary experience through the sublimation and heroic identification that this type of literature can encourage, but also the dilution and simplification of higher travel literature itself—including from the meta-textual point of view, through the recrudescence of simplified and abridged editions intended for sale in railway stations and the like.

36While this popularisation and over-consumption of travel seemingly decreased its grandeur and attractiveness, the other impact of these developments also has something to do with identity for Interwar travel writers, because traditionally the travelling author had always been a ‘bridge’, a middle-ground between the explorer and the tourist. However, exploration having seemingly become more or less impossible unless one was a well-trained scientist and had access to proper equipment, and because on the other hand tourists had become so numerous that they seemed to contaminate every territory, a sense of balance and identity was seemingly lost.

37The idea of an overabundant ordinariness becoming in itself aberrant to the point of creating nausea is critical in this case. It lays the ground for the theatre of the absurd, a form that most often focuses on the repetition and overexploitation of clichés until complete loss of meaning and coherence, until the birth of an ‘anti-world’ often resembling a carnival or a nightmare, retaining a partially utopian dimension because of its singularly transient and alternative character. It is not by chance that one of the most emblematic works of this kind, Ionesco’s Bald Soprano, begins and ends with insistent reiterations of ‘Englishness’ as markers of unbearable and inescapable banality, while the confusingly mechanical gestures of the Smiths and the enumeration of the mundane objects surrounding them, create incoherence and madness through—as—an overload of déjà-vu.

38The link between this dramatic representation and Fleming’s assertion that ‘São Paulo is like Reading, simply further away’ (Fleming 1998, 71) or Stark’s assertion that ‘the ordinary human being needs a change’ (Stark 96)—subtly implying that change had already become all too ordinary—relies precisely on the same process of repetition/duplication of topoi until one completely loses balance and orientation. The reader of these texts is divided between hilarity and nausea, equally irrational enthusiasm and misery, contradictory feelings and sensations emerging from the repetition of the same places, the same figures, the same speech, a prelude to Beckett’s and Ionesco’s untimely pendulums whose cyclical patterns signal growing chaos instead of guaranteeing order.

39Ultimately, the modern reader is invited to ask himself/herself the very same question: where exactly is my place in a growingly anonymous world where I—fed from a young age with myths and romantic stories—was promised an opportunity for revelation, initiation and thrill? The ironic response given by the many travel writers of this generation is an invitation to embrace bathos and disenchantment as existential discoveries, and to get ready to be made brutally aware of the banality of the world and the insignificance of one’s own being, until one finds grounds to delight in the sweet and dizzying sensation of proving it was wrong.

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1 See Robert Burden, Travel, Modernism and Modernity, Routledge, 2016.

2 For considerations on how these archetypal models are reinterpreted by female travel writers of the period, see Joyce Kelley (35–39).

3 ‘The astonishing transformation of the publishing industry was one of the more interesting direct outcomes the advent of the railway produced and as noted was also to be a factor in the development of mass literacy […]. As Richards comments, ‘a manic expansion of the railways in the 1850s’ adding that ‘reading matter was essential’. Bookstalls were established on railway stations, […] and publishers were designing books specifically for rail travel. […] For instance, as part of Longman’s ‘Traveller’s Library’ speculation, Anna Jameson’s three-volume Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838) was shortened, reprinted, and given a catchier title, marketed as Sketches in Canada and Rambles among the Redmen (1852).’ (Johnston 2016, 6–8)

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Horatiu Burcea, « ‘Times of Unbelief’: Staging the Rise and Fall of British Travel Writing During the Interwar Period »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 56 | 2019, mis en ligne le 21 mars 2019, consulté le 20 octobre 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Horatiu Burcea

Horatiu Burcea is a lecturer at Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne, teaching English, anthropology and British civilisation. He holds a Ph.D. in English literature and civilisation from Université Paris Sorbonne, and a Master of Arts in anthropology from Ball State University. His research interests include 20th century travel writing, anthropology of art, historical ethnography and the theory of possible worlds.

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