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The Hospitality of Art—The Last Bulwark against the Hostility of History in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts

L’hospitalité de l’art, dernier rempart contre l’hostilité de l’Histoire dans A Time of Gifts de Patrick Leigh Fermor
Isabelle Keller-Privat


Le récit de voyage de Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts, met en scène la situation fragile du futur écrivain quittant l’Angleterre en 1933 pour atteindre Constantinople à pied. Tout au long de sa traversée de l’Europe centrale, ses digressions sur le Moyen-Âge, la Renaissance et l’Histoire moderne européenne offrent un contrepoint aux politiques contemporaines marquées par l’hostilité. Fermor joue de multiples formes de déplacement pour partager avec ses lecteurs sa propre vulnérabilité et sa quête de fragments poétiques, picturaux et historiques qui nous entraîne au-delà de la « longue nuit qui approche » (TG 357).

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1A Time of Gifts, although first published in 1977, describes the beginning of Leigh Fermor’s career both as a traveller and as a writer, since it recaptures those early days when he decided to “set out across Europe like a tramp” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 17) in November 1933, intending to reach Constantinople on foot. This narrative, undertaken by one who “dislike[d] being called a travel writer” (Mason 2007, 407), also evinces his “restlessness and strong dislike of authority” (Mason 2007, 406) as he traipsed across Holland, Germany, Austria, and Hungary in 1933—the year Hitler was appointed Chancellor, in a European political context that was marked by strong nationalism and collectivism. Although repeatedly claiming “politically speaking, I didn’t care a damn” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 137), Leigh Fermor clearly voices his radical desire to break away from social, national, political belongings, to literally tramp his way, on the margins of comfort and conventions. As Fussell remarks, the open road and the penniless wanderer are romantic tropes self-consciously used by travel writers in the thirties and Leigh Fermor is no exception when he asserts in A Time of Gifts (132-33):

Set on the way by my Villon craze, I had discovered and devoured Helen Waddell’s […] The Wandering Scholars [1927] […] and I wasn’t slow […] to identify myself with one of those itinerant medieval clerks (quoted in Fussell 1980, 58).

  • 1 In an interview with Annette Kobak in 1992 on BBC4 Leigh Fermor lists The Byzantine Achievement: A (...)

Yet, Leigh Fermor deftly uses the type of “the neo-medieval wandering minstrel or clerk” (Fussell 1980, 58) to pit his slow trudging in hostile meteorological conditions against the oncoming chaos of Europe. His awareness of the “particular British intellectual and emotional tradition” (Fussell 1980, 77) influenced by Robert Byron1, does not preclude his sharp criticism of Nazism, as he recounts to Annette Kobak: “I wasn’t a particularly conscious person […]. I was rather backward about anything to do with politics. But I hated the idea of the Nazi Regime, especially the Jew baiting and book burning” (Leigh Fermor 1992).

2Throughout A Time of Gifts, Leigh Fermor exemplifies the ill-dressed and famished outcast who is not only in search of a hospitable shelter but who perpetually challenges the laws of hospitality by questioning our understanding and practice of hospitality in a politically divisive European context. His vulnerable position is to be read as a form of resistance against all forms of exclusion and his quest for hospitality as a quest for values: those of empathy and connectedness. Sharing the young traveller’s “disjointed and haphazard way” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 30) readers are led to meditate upon hegemonic registers of contempt that breed violence and chaos and to consider art as the fragile crucible of an immaterial hospitality that endows the world with a renewed, borderless and timeless dimension. In that respect Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts exemplifies the modern age of travel writing that turns our eyes away from the exotic to the dialectics of travel, spurring readers to look for “a place where values are discovered along the way, not imported; a place where other cultures can have their say […]” (Blanton 2002, 29)—a place that questions and fosters hospitality.

3We shall first turn towards the representations of the errant guest accepting the risk of hospitality and leading us to consider the time of hospitality against the time of history before eventually envisaging hospitality as a form of redemption.

The Errant Guest running the Risk of Hospitality

The Desire for Hospitality

  • 2 Unless specified all translations are mine.

4A Time of Gifts opens upon the classical rhetorical device of the captatio benevolentiae by placing, on the threshold of the narrative, Leigh Fermor’s letter to his friend Xan Fielding entitled “Introductory Letter” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 1). This letter introduces the book to his friend, the narrative to his readers, and his younger unruly self bent on “anarchy” and “transgressions” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 11) to his older self launching into “an attempt at coherence” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 21) at the end of his letter. Addressing readers as friends and confidants, the letter calls for an endlessly postponed answer, while casting readers in the role of the guests, inviting them to step out on the threshold and listen to an odd combination of voices: that of an eighteen -year-old walker recaptured by the forty-nine-year-old writer. Drawing attention to the gap between narrated and narrating ‘I’ Leigh Fermor builds upon the paradox of the travel narrative which, according to Roland Le Huenen, relies on the confrontation of, on the one hand, travel—which is, at heart, “a provocation [because] it pits the signs of discourse against a hitherto unknown reality”—and, on the other hand, “the scriptural act that re-establishes the order of things” (Le Huenen 2015, 30)2. In so doing, Leigh Fermor introduces us to a mysterious, unpredictable, figure, a character who remains partly indecipherable because he embodies the passing of time, the slow transformation of the self into the other, the alterity of the subject. As André Benhaïm explains, “[the] foreigner, alterity itself, in other words, myself in other words. Alterity itself, or the foreigner. The foreigner that we are” (Benhaïm 2021, 82). Leigh Fermor construes his narrative as a place where the definition of the other, or of the foreigner, as Derrida calls him, is perpetually challenged since, as a shifting narrator, he is both the same and the other, his younger and/or older self. Accordingly, the narrative is built on the principle of the “habitable house” described by Derrida: “in order to constitute the space of a habitable home and house, you also need an opening, a door and windows, you have to give up a passage to the outside world” (Derrida 2000, 61). Leigh Fermor remaps the literary space as a welcoming home where the artist’s self can never be essentialized but is predicated upon the shifting lines of relative space and time. Consequently, A Time of Gifts not only showcases what Alain Montandon has analysed as “the text’s desire for hospitality” (Montandon 2002, 262) but also confronts readers with their own radical otherness, the otherness brought about by time that challenges our ability to recognize our own selves.

5The question of recognition is indeed at the heart of the letter staging Leigh Fermor’s first experience of hospitality in the Northamptonshire family to whom he has been entrusted during the war years before being reunited with a mother who fails to recognize her own son in this “small farmer’s child run wild” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 3). The remainder of these childhood memories mainly deals with the disastrous inhospitality of educational institutions that will nurture his passion for “dead and living languages” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 10), poetry, writing, and drawing through which the young boy expresses his search for a habitable zone, a space of freedom and creation: “I wanted to think, write, stay or move on at my own speed and unencumbered, to gaze at things with a changed eye and listen to new tongues that were untainted by a singular familiar word” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 18). This desire for freedom is coupled with a desire for a radical otherness, entailing a linguistic otherness that takes the form of a diverse array of German quotes incorporated into the narrative, not always translated into English. The fragments of dialogue, the songs and poems thus create a linguistic threshold which contributes to the construction of the travel narrative as a hospitable space where readers are invited to cross the border between the intelligible and the unfamiliar.

6This process of linguistic accommodation is accomplished through the distancing of the familiar that allows for new connections: “It had occurred to me that I might learn German quicker by reading Shakespeare in the famous German translation […] Schlegel and Tieck’s version […] almost as good as the original” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 54). Yet, linguistic encounters can also serve to highlight the divide between hospitality and inhospitality. At the very beginning of his stay in Germany Leigh Fermor is brought face to face with a Nazi supporter commenting about Hitler “Ein sehr schöner Mann!” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 41). Such a comment cannot fail to make readers smile but it also dramatizes Leigh Fermor’s risky position, made more blatant by “Volk, ans Gewehr!” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 41). This risk is highlighted by the parallax framework analyzed by Grzegorz Moroz (2016) which reveals, behind young Leigh Fermor’s account, the older narrator’s hindsight on the outset of WWII. The “errant scholar” (Leigh Fermor, 2005 17) openly welcomes the risk of inhospitality by assuming the posture of the dispossessed wanderer. His desire for frugality paves the way for a journey that unfolds as travel in the full sense of the word, i.e. a ‘travail’, which originally denoted an instrument of torture and whose primary meaning in its verbal acceptation (to exert oneself to hard work) also meant gaining knowledge in a subject through thorough study (OED). Leigh Fermor does not conceal the difficulties of the journey from the start, describing his “freezing cheeks and hair caked with snow” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 72) or remembering the first time he strayed away: “There was no doubt about it, I thought the next day: I’d taken a wrong turning” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 80). Later on such moments reach an ominous climax:

I lost my way now and then through misunderstanding instructions […]; sometimes dialect or lack of teeth or the wind had garbled them […]. I had a moment of panic […]. All at once it was dark and the snow was coming down fast. I was feeling my way by a wooden rail when I lost touch and fell stumbling in a drift and floundered in circles but couldn’t find the rail. I must have strayed into a field. Luckily I found a ruined barn and fumbled by way to the door. […]. I usually had an apple and a hunk of bread and a flask, but not this time. There was no light to read by or dry wood for a fire, the cold was getting worse and the wind was driving snow through a score of gaps. […]. After a while I stopped the singing with which I was trying to pass the interminable hours. There was nothing for it but to sit clenched and shivering in this prehistoric burial posture and listen to my teeth rattling (Leigh Fermor 2005, 133-4).

The moment of straying is dilated: the belated realization inferred by the pluperfect (“I’d taken a wrong turning,” Leigh Fermor 2005, 80) is replaced here by the suddenness of the preterit (“I lost my way”) and actualized by the time adverbials (“now,” “All at once”). The accumulation of –ING forms and the verbal enumerations and repetitions dramatize Leigh Fermor’s feelings of confusion and helplessness which climax in the impersonal structures concluding the passage and testifying to his utter disempowerment: even singing is no longer of any help.

7Framing the descriptive passage into a scene of agony, Leigh Fermor evinces his mastery of the specific narrative structure of travel writing as described by Roland Le Huenen:

  • 3 « […] dans la description se conjuguent deux instances, en soi autonomes, celle du savoir et celle (...)

[…] description relies on two dimensions that are per se autonomous: that of knowledge and that of duration. [… I]n a travel account, description, far from being merely ancillary, plays a prevailing role and, as a consequence, substitutes for the hierarchal organization of fiction an agonistic structure that is echoed […] by the syntactic order of the textual material (Le Huenen 2015, 31)3.

This agonistic dramatization of the description reveals Leigh Fermor’s awareness of the role of temporality in travel narratives as the traveller’s eye transforms a temporal fragment into a scene and is also intimately linked to the construction of the journey as a strenuous travail, a slow, painstaking metamorphosis of the walker who deliberately opts for exposure and frailty. Acknowledging man’s infinitesimal power over the world and his own destiny the walking traveller appears utterly at the mercy of events, what Guillaume Thouroude describes as the passive object of the journey:

  • 4 « Le voyageur, à la limite, devient lui-même un voyagé, qui ne maîtrise plus ni l’itinéraire, ni l (...)

The traveller becomes, so to speak, the one who is being travelled, who no longer masters his route or the duration of his stops […]. In order to understand this active passivity, one may recall what Gilles Deleuze calls “the power of being affected.” […] Power is thus correlated to a form of passivity, that is to say a capacity to welcome affects, to allow oneself to be transformed by them […], to invent the rhetorical art that accounts for the acceptance of utter frailty (Thouroude 2017, 135)4.

Challenging Hospitality

8Embodying this active passivity, Leigh Fermor welcomes the full force of the natural elements and willingly renounces all forms of power. Not only does he relinquish material belongings (Leigh Fermor 2005, 19), but he also relinquishes all social bonds: “I knew that the enterprise had to be solitary and the break complete” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 18). Thus he becomes a truly solitary walker, who “is in the world, but apart from it” (Solnit 2002, 21). This sociological detachment functions as a prerequisite for a renewed intimacy with the world, as David Le Breton contends:

  • 5 « La marche est une méthode d’immersion dans le monde, un moyen de se pénétrer de la nature traver (...)

Walking is a means of immersing oneself in the world, of getting imbued with the nature of the crossing, of getting in touch with a universe that cannot be accessed through the everyday modalities of knowledge or perception. As he moves onwards, the walker broadens his scope on the world, steeps his body in brand new dimension of existence (Le Breton 1997, 128)5.

As a result, Leigh Fermor offers us new modes of perception and alters our epistemological paradigm: no longer based on hoarding and hierarchizing, knowledge is anchored in the perception of haphazard encounters mediated by a subject who has chosen to immerse himself in his environment and has abandoned the all-encompassing, domineering perspective of the knowledgeable explorer. As the narrator remarks early in his journey: “On foot, unlike any other forms of travel, it is impossible to be out of touch” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 38). In that regard, Leigh Fermor fits Casey Blanton’s definition of the modern travel writer who pits “the Western ideal of a self who is an owner” against ’the alternative of a self or a culture that wanders, “travelling light’” (Blanton 2002, 97). Quoting James Clifford, she adds: “As Clifford explains, ‘culture and identity are inventive and mobile. They need not take root in ancestral plots; they live by pollination, by (historical) transplanting’”(Blanton 2002, 97).

9This nomadic frame of knowledge simultaneously informs the journey and the text, and accounts for Leigh Fermor’s wandering gaze that focuses on trivialities and welcomes ordinary sights as aesthetic encounters:

All was frozen. There was a particular delight in treading across the hard puddles. The grey discs and pods of ice creaked under hobnails and clogs with a mysterious sigh of captive air: then they split into stars and whitened as the spider-web fissures expanded. […] I would follow the path below and break through the new and sparkling crust to sink in powdery depths. I travelled on footpaths and over stiles and across fields and along country roads that ran through dark woods and out again into the white ploughland and pasture (Leigh Fermor 2005, 129).

The starry fissures of the icy puddles usher in a rhizomatic map that echoes the initial map opening the travel narrative. This time the reader is given a map with no names but, just like the geographic map, it multiplies entry points and lines of flight breaking in every direction, expanding, paving the way for a journey that saunters from one preposition to the next, doing away with verbs, construing the landscape as inherently mobile and unpredictable, rich with the possibilities of unsuspected sources of life—a landscape that unfolds like a Deleuzian map “open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification” (Deleuze 2002, 12).

10As a result the journey does not follow a pre-established line: the map is shaped by Leigh Fermor’s wandering progress and travelling becomes a performance. Staging his many frailties and the unreliability of his route, exploiting to the full the double process of hospitality by throwing himself on the mercy of those who welcome him and welcoming the world into his frame of vision, Leigh Fermor, like Ulysses, is a “frontier-man” (Benhaïm 2021, 59) tossed between culture and monstrosity, putting to the test the nature of hospitality.

11Leigh Fermor’s stays in inns and alehouses or in hospitable abodes do not warrant absolute safety either. Among the first inns where he seeks shelter is the “little Gasthof” in Bingen where he is “the only customer” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 68). The guest is immediately included into the family’s Christmas preparations and served wine. On the following morning he receives a small Christmas gift, and is thus included in “the time of gifts” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 69) that harks back to the title and to the epigraph—MacNeice’s poem “Twelfth Night,” written shortly after the end of WWII and focusing on the lost “harmony of roof and hedge” (MacNeice 1949, 8). It is tempting to recognize in the “Snow-happy hicks of a boy’s world” (MacNeice 1949, 8) a metaphor for Leigh Fermor’s journey but, as Moroz (2016, 42-3) has remarked, the passage is also redolent of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. First performed in 1602 at Candelmas, the formal end of Christmastide, the play ends on a return to a happy order, quite unlike MacNeice’s poem which frames the “time of gifts” as definitely “gone”, destroyed by “burst grenade” (MacNeice 1949, 8). Thus, although the inn scene is structured as a classical hospitality scene, it is nevertheless fraught with darker undertones that unveil the sinister “track that reappears through slush” (MacNeice 1949, 8), building up a continuous line of tension that connects even happy moments to darker allusions, suggesting that the borders between hospitality and distrust are indeed very thin: “hospitality is not far from distrust” (Benhaïm 2021, 48).

12In those happy and relaxed moments when he finds a warm haven, Leigh Fermor’s precarious position transforms each heartfelt welcome into a tiny miracle, a gift from life. This is why the motif of enchanted hospitality is never far away. Such is the case for instance when Leigh Fermor, describing his encounter with Lise and Annie in Stuttgart, revisits Odyssean hospitality. Once again, hospitality is placed under the auspices of “the time of gifts” as he is invited to take part in Dreikönigsfest (Leigh Fermor 2005, 84). Not unlike Ulysses who survives through the poetic invention of a new name that cancels his actual identity (Benhaïm 2021, 49), Leigh Fermor sheds his true name to acquire new social bonds as “Mr Brown, a family friend” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 84). Like any Odyssean hero he is offered a chance to wash off the dirt of his travels and show himself to the world as a new man, metamorphosed by the gift of hospitality. He appears thus both as himself and as the other face, the so far unseen face of the guest: “The face of the absolute guest, who addresses me, who calls out to me” (Benhaïm 2021, 81). This transformation runs parallel to that of his two hostesses who, from mere “obviously well-brought up girls […] buying groceries” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 83) turn into plotters against the family and social order to welcome a stranger: “There was a feeling of secrecy and collusion in all this, like plans for a midnight feast” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 84). Magic hospitality in The Odyssey connotes a perversion of hospitality through which the guest is bewitched by the host, such as when Ulysses is lured by the nymph Calypso into her enchanting cave. However, in A Time of Gifts magic hospitality metamorphoses into a celebration of the magic of hospitality: Lise and Annie function as the inverted figures of Calypso and Circe and allow Leigh Fermor to pursue his journey:

At half-past nine next morning, we were waving goodbye across a tide of Monday morning traffic. [….] I felt as Ulysses must have felt, gazing astern while some island of happy sojourn dropped below the horizon (Leigh Fermor 2005, 90).

Successful hospitality thus triggers mobility and warrants freedom, as Benhaïm remarks: “Hospitality, whenever it is successful and actually takes place, does not warrant eternal sojourn, but, on the contrary, guarantees the freedom to pursue one’s journey” (Benhaïm 2021, 52). In A Time of Gifts hospitality remaps space as an open, mobile map that ensures free travel upon the new seas of the modern world, thus highlighting the undeniably literary essence of travel writing that fully corresponds to Foucault’s definition of 20th century literature:

  • 6 « Au xxe siècle on écrit – je pense bien entendu à la parole littéraire –, on écrit pour faire l’e (...)

In the 20th century one writes—I am referring here to literary production of course—one writes to experiment with and measure the scope of a freedom that can only exist in words but that has turned there into a rage (Foucault 2013, 54)6.

Leigh Fermor’s experiment in freedom is set against the increasingly violent denial of all forms of personal freedom that keep resurfacing throughout his narrative and goes as far as to turn places of detention into hospitable shelters, such as when he recounts how “humble travellers in Holland could doss down in police stations” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 32). The travel writer’s art thus lies in his ability to remap the world as a hospitable dwelling while simultaneously foregrounding how the values of hospitality, intimately linked to those of freedom, are constantly jeopardized. Not unlike Oedipus, Leigh Fermor challenges MacNeice’s sphinx, attempting to solve the “broken riddle” (MacNeice 1949, 8) by walking against conventions and prohibitions in a mad attempt to recover “the time of gifts”.

Hospitality against the Odds

On the Threshold

13From the outset, A Time of Gifts explores the contrast between the traveller’s quest for hospitality and the rising hostility of Nazism. Even before Leigh Fermor sets foot in Germany, he mentions the beautiful cathedral of Rotterdam, the Groote Kirk, as the sole building to have survived the approaching war: “Except for this church, the beautiful city was to be bombed to fragments a few years later. I would have lingered, had I known” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 29). The conditional sentence points to an irretrievable past while the future in the past signals the inevitable destruction of a monument which is not only, like any church, a sanctuary, but also the shelter of a widely shared culture heritage:

So compellingly did the vision tally with a score of half-forgotten Dutch pictures that my mind’s eye instantaneously furnished the void with those seventeenth-century groups which would have been sitting or strolling there: burghers with pointed corn-coloured beards—and impious spaniels that refused to stay outside—conferring gravely with their wives and children, still as chessmen, in black broadcloth and identical honeycomb ruffs under the tremendous hatchmented pillars (Leigh Fermor 2005, 28-9).

The church functions as an icon for hospitality that deftly links hospitality to art as a form of mnemonic recovery. True to the function of the icon (Souriau 1990, 843-4) it stages characters who belong to historical time but who are treated as signifiers for a transcending reality and whose attributes (their beards, spaniels, broadcloth and ruffs) are symbolic of their social and religious belonging. The minute description of their anatomical characteristics gives a corporeal rooting to the aesthetic and metaphysical ideal. Hospitality is here conceived as a moment of aesthetic empathy with the spirit of place: the empty church becomes the silent haven for visual projections that are only “half-forgotten” and come to haunt the narrator’s inner eye, just as the memory of the dead haunt the writer’s memory in the aftermath of WWII. Through artistic vision the 17th century and the 20th century fold back upon each other like a gigantic diptych that encapsulates all generations of dead under “the tremendous hatchmented pillars” forever bearers of the memory of the departed.

14Leigh Fermor’s entrance into German territory highlights even more forcefully the approaching era of violence branded in “the scarlet flag charged with its white disc and its black swastika” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 39), the portraits of Hitler who “fixed us with a scowl of great malignity” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 42), or the S.A. parades (Leigh Fermor 2005, 43). But Leigh Fermor is not just using history as a backdrop to dramatize his narrative: confrontations with Nazism take on human form at the inn in Heidelberg. This striking encounter with inhospitality exemplifies the shift from the human to the monstrous: “Then his face changed to a mask of hate” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 77). The aggressive monologue subsequently reported in free indirect speech and concluding on “Perhaps you’ve heard the name?” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 77) testifies to the rapid progress of Nazification that runs parallel to Leigh Fermor’s own progress through Germany. Although it has been argued that Leigh Fermor throughout “all the digressions into abbeys and castles and caves […] swerves away from the predictable, preferring to go where no one thought to look” (Demopoulos 2012, 45), one cannot fail to notice the narrator’s art in bringing out politically charged contrasts as he pits moments of violent inhospitality against those of idyllic hospitality, thus playing on the Latin derivations of the word analyzed by Benveniste (1969) and Derrida (2000).

  • 7 See Villeneuve, Guillaume. 2014. “L’esprit des lieux, Ière partie, sur Patrick Leigh Fermor.” Émis (...)

15Indeed, right before the episode at the Heidelberg inn, Leigh Fermor has introduced us to Frau Spengel who welcomes him warmly: “Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 73). This is the first occurrence of a complex thread of references to Schubert to which we shall return. This quotation from Goethe’s Erlkönig sends the reader back to Schubert’s lied (Op.1 D. 328, 1815) ominously suggesting the victory of death over life, although here the generous inn-keeper’s wife seems bent on holding death at bay by sheltering Leigh Fermor against the cold night. The next reference to Schubert occurs in Chapter 4, entitled “Winterreise” (D. 911, 1827), which, as Guillaume Villeneuve reports, was the initial title for A Time of Gifts7. The chapter is devoted to Leigh Fermor’s stay in Munich, the city that saw Hitler’s first steps into politics shortly after WWI. The oppressive political atmosphere in Munich coincides with Leigh Fermor’s first experience of the consequences of inhospitality as he “strayed by mistake into a room full of S.S. officers, Gruppen- and Sturmbannführers, black from their lightning-flash-collars to the forest of tall boots underneath the table” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 117). The reader understands the extent of Leigh Fermor’s disorientation during the ensuing drinking scene:

Hobnails grated, mugs clashed and the combined smell of beer and bodies and old clothes and farmyards sprang at the newcomer. […] The gunmetal-coloured cylinders were stamped with a blue HB conjoined under the Bavarian crown, like the foundry-mark on cannon. The tables, in my mind’s eye, were becoming batteries where each gunner served a silent and recoil-less piece of ordnance which, trained on himself, pounded away in steady siege. Mass-gunfire! […] There must have been over a thousand pieces engaged!—Big Berthas, Krupp’s pale brood, battery on battery crashing at random or in salvoes as hands adjusted the elevation and then tightened on the stone trigger-guard. Supported by comrades, the walking wounded reeled through the battle smoke and a fresh gunner leaped into each place as it fell empty (Leigh Fermor 2005, 117-8).

The inn scene discloses a tragic-comic battlefield: the initial comparison (“gunmetal-coloured cylinders were stamped […] like the foundry-mark on cannon”) ushers in a metaphor implying the identification of the compared and the comparing objects (“The tables […] were becoming batteries”). The confusion between innocent pints of beer and deadly weapons climaxes in the sudden disappearance of the drinkers: there are only “gunner[s]” left. The beer mugs distorted into pieces of artillery usher in the “Big Berthas” and Krupp guns, prompting readers to face their own war memories. The conversion of the drinker’s carefree gesture lifting his pint into the soldier’s careful targeting of his enemy adds to the sinister hue of the passage while the description of “the walking wounded” suggests, behind the satirical description, the reverberations of Leigh Fermor’s own war memories. Although the young boy is not amongst the “uninitiated strangers […] physically set-upon by zealots” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 114), his Munich tale culminates in utter dispossession as he eventually passes out, vanquished by the “darker-hued explosive[s]” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 118), before he finally discovers that he has been robbed of his few belongings. Despite the subsequent help that enables him to recover some money and set off on his journey again, the situation is critical: he has been utterly dispossessed of everything that was dear to his heart (Leigh Fermor 2005, 121). Ironically, the robbery takes place at the Youth Hostel where he had found shelter and while he was enjoying the delusory hospitality of the brewery. In both places the expected hospitality is set against an ominous, rampant hostility.

The Reverse Side of Hospitality

16Thus, Leigh Fermor brings us to envisage hospitality from the opposite standpoint, from what it is not, or from what it is about to turn into. Thus, upon seeing the young man collapse in a heavy stupor in Munich’s Hofbräuhaus, “the hefty Samaritan on the bench beside [him] had simply scooped [him] up and put [him] in his handcart” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 120). Hospitality lies in the unexpected, in what may or may not come; it is, fundamentally, what is yet to be performed, as Derrida explains:

  • 8 « […] l’hospitalité […] attend sa chance, […] elle se tend vers sa chance au-delà de ce qu’elle es (...)

[…] hospitality […] awaits an opportunity, […] reaches out to an opportunity that lies beyond itself, that is to say beyond the paralysis of the threshold that it is. In that sense, it is always about to come, it belongs to a future that does not and will never present itself as such, as present. Thinking hospitality from the future, from a future that will or will not present itself, or that will present itself only where it is not expected as present or presentable, means thinking hospitality from the point of death as much as from the point of birth (Derrida 2021, 47)8.

  • 9 “Will ’o the Wisp: Every stream will reach the sea; / every sorrow too its grave,” Müller [1823], (...)
  • 10 “The Tavern: Pitiless tavern, / do you turn me away?”
  • 11 “Goodnight: A stranger I arrived here, / a stranger I go hence”.
  • 12 “The Tavern: Then onward, lead me onward, / my trusty staff!”
  • 13 “Pretence: my only success is in pretence!”
  • 14 “The Signpost: Why do I pass the highways by / that other travellers take, / to seek out hidden tr (...)

Leigh Fermor’s preoccupation with a hospitality always lying in wait accounts for the central place given to the chapter “Winterreise” and to the twined intertexts of Müller’s poem and Schubert’s Lieder. The first cycle of Winterreise follows Müller’s poem telling the story of a vagrant ambling through the wintery night and approaching death, very much like Schubert at the time. The entire journey, written in a rigorous tonal pattern in which the minor mode prevails, is steeped in weariness and despair and seems to move relentlessly towards the silence of the grave as the young man, abandoned by his beloved, leaves the city at night, follows the river, reminiscing happier days, and awaiting death (“Irrlicht”: “jeder Strom wird’s Meer gewinnen, / jedes Leiden auch ein Grab”)9. Contrary to Leigh Fermor, Müller’s hero is a despondent character who constantly meets with society’s hostility (“Das Wirtshaus”: “O unbarmherz’ge Schenke, / doch weisest du mich ab?”)10. Yet, the reader cannot miss obvious parallels between the two figures as Müller’s traveller is defined from the start as the eternal wanderer (“Gute Nacht”: “Fremd bin ich eingezogen / Fremd zieh’ ich wieder aus”)11—a fate which Leigh Fermor will willingly embrace throughout his life—and as a lonely walker who can only rely on his faithful staff (“Das Wirtshaus”: “Nun weiter denn, nur weiter, / mein treuer Wanderstab!”)12. And although Müller’s initial tale of unrequited love has often been read as a journey towards death, it also unveils a metaphysical quest through which the hero’s Wanderlust and his feelings of estrangement serve to convey his dissatisfaction with the vanity of the world, with its illusory essence, as “Täuschung” implies: “nur Täuschung ist für mich Gewinn!”13.Therefore, what pushes him forward is, more likely, his desire to see through what others have missed, to descry the truth behind illusory appearances, to aim for a new path: “Was vermeid’ ich denn die Wege, / wo die ander’n Wand’rer gehn, / suche mir versteckte Stege / durch verschneite Felsenhöh’n?”14. In that regard, Leigh Fermor and Müller’s hero travel the same “hidden tracks”. Just as Müller unknowingly welcomed Schubert into his text, expecting a musician who would understand the silent music of his text and bring it to life, Leigh Fermor welcomes a reader keen to follow the slow expansion of a prose that veers from comedy to tragedy, from the autobiographical to the historical, through poetry and music, in quest for a deeper meaning. Allowing the text to follow untrodden paths Leigh Fermor reassesses contemporary and past history, seeking for connections against confrontations, the better to remind his readers that a tale of hospitality is primarily a tale of freedom: “[…] what matters most in hospitality is that speech should remain free and that the narrative should be allowed to follow its course. […] Hospitality depends on words and memory, on listening and patience” (Benhaïm 2021, 22).

17One of Leigh Fermor’s purposes is indeed to develop his readers’ capacities for listening and patience, such as when he sets upon recapturing the entire history of Europe from the majestic viewpoint of Ulm Minster. The description that unfolds, far from offering us the reassuring vista of an all-domineering viewpoint upon the landscape, ushers in an inner vision that takes us well beyond the limits of perspective to show what lies beyond the eye’s reach—the landscape metamorphosed into “a campaign map”:

It was an amazing vision. Few stretches of Central Europe have been the theatre for so much history. Beyond which watershed lay the pass where Hannibal’s elephants had slithered downhill? Only a few miles away, the frontier of the Roman Empire had begun. […] The same valley, functioning in reverse, funnelled half the barbarians of Asia into Central Europe. […] Charlemagne stalked across this corner of empire to destroy the Avars of Pannonia. […] Again and again, armies of mercenaries, lugging siege-engines and bristling with scaling ladders, crawled all over this map. The Thirty Years War, the worst of them all, was becoming an obsession with me: a lurid, ruinous, doomed conflict of beliefs and dynasties. […] The polyglot captains of the ruffian multi-lingual hosts hold our gaze […] with their Velasquez moustaches and populate half the picture galleries in Europe. […] Curls flow and lace or starched collars break over the black armour and the gold inlay; they glance from their frames with an aloof and high-souled melancholy which is both haunting and enigmatic. […] The destroying banners move about the landscape like flags on a campaign map […] (Leigh Fermor 2005, 102-3).

Significantly, the historical narrative that starts in the past shifts to the present when the narrator brings up its artistic representations in the visual arts, suggesting that the meditation on the significance of history needs the same silent attention as the contemplation of a work of art which both reactivates memory and shifts the perspective to the present. It is therefore not surprising that this long passage should conclude upon the final vision of “a scarlet banner with the swastika on its white disk […] hinting that there was still trouble ahead” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 104). It stands out like another of those “flags on a campaign map” and draws our attention not only to the necessity of taking into consideration recent history and the aftermath of WWI but also to adopt a long term vision which considers the Thirty Years War as the first step towards a unified Germany, heralding the creation of the German Empire in 1871 and, later, the dream of the Greater Germanic Reich. Rewriting the landscape as a war map, Leigh Fermor highlights the uncertainty of military battles and the frailty of shifting alliances as well as the human consequences of “slaughter and famine and plague” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 102). But he also invites his readers to face the portraits of those long dead as eternal witnesses to indescribable sufferings and losses. Eventually the history of Man is to be read as a desperate attempt to lead a life that is not enmeshed in the deathly cycle of history, to find a place wherefrom artists can further a better understanding of the world. This distrust towards totalitarian ideologies is a topos of travel writing, as Thouroude has noted:

  • 15 « Il apparaît que l’écriture du voyage s’accommode d’un rapport désabusé à l’histoire : les auteur (...)

It appears that travel writing welcomes a disenchanted relationship with history: usually, travel writers are deeply distrustful of totalitarian ideologies […]; [they] use […] travel as a means of shunting political ideologies, toning down their impact, which, from a temporal point of view, anchors their narrative is a suspended, protracted present time, as they are aware of the end of time, and without any hope for a future world (Thouroude 2017, 186)15.

However perceptive this assertion might be, it fails to capture the complexity of Leigh Fermor’s relationship with history. His own personal history testifies indeed to his spontaneous commitment against totalitarianism and the treatment of history in A Time of Gifts evinces his belief in a world where the growing awareness of history brought about by the arts might pave the way for a new civilisation. This is why the vista from Ulm Minster significantly concludes on the need for a better insight into the future which, in the end, is intimately correlated to the analytic and prophetic powers of the artist: “someone skilled in prophecy and the meaning of symbols could have foretold that three-quarters of the old city below would go up in explosion and flame a few years later […]” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 104). If Leigh Fermor’s writing suspends time in a protracted present it is certainly not to negate the lethal onward rush of history, but rather to allow his readers to step back and read the signs, and make room for a broader, more inclusive perception of history. Such a standpoint implies a pause in the narrative, and a radical break from partisan views. Leading us into silent galleries, majestic belfries or intimate libraries, Leigh Fermor turns history into a hospitable threshold wherefrom one may gaze at the complexity of intricate coalitions and divisions, a threshold which echoes Christophe Bailly’s definition:

  • 16 « Le seuil est […] une zone de transition, un temps d’arrêt suivi d’un temps de mouvement. Le seui (...)

The threshold […] is a transitional zone, a point of stoppage followed by a period of motion. The threshold is exactly what occurs as soon as one allows time for time to reveal itself in the enmeshed depths of its course […] (Bailly 2015, 203)16.

Only from the standpoint of the threshold can history be re-examined. This is why Leigh Fermor chooses to tell history from the open perspective of Ulm Minster, from his “eyrie” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 102), which stands as a foil to Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest.” Reopening history as a dilated flow that digresses and branches off into meditations on poetry, music and painting, Leigh Fermor displaces our gaze from the political to the historical and the ethical and invites his readers to acknowledge both human vulnerability and a hopeful future.

Hospitality and Redemption

Arts, the Unifying Ethos

18Coming into the world like “a broken knight” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 17), Leigh Fermor foregrounds exile, solitude, dispossession and exposure as the path to “kindness and hospitality” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 32, 49) which belong everywhere: in a modest inn, a prison, or a castle or in the open air where the traveller experiences a special bonding with the landscape:

In Holland the landscape is the protagonist, and merely human events—even one so extraordinary as Icarus falling head first in the sea because the wax in his artificial wings has melted—are secondary details: next to Brueghel’s ploughed field and trees and sailing ship and ploughman, the falling aeronaut is insignificant. So compelling is the identity of picture and reality that all along my path numberless dawdling afternoons in museums were being summoned back to life and set in motion. Every pace confirmed them. Each scene conjured up its echo (Leigh Fermor 2005, 36-7).

Such a conception of the landscape was already foreshadowed by Petronius’s epigraph promising the “young man” that

  • 17 I am indebted to Prof. David Scourfield for this beautiful and precise rendering of Petronius’s po (...)

the remote Danube will come to know you,
the frozen North, and the peaceful realms of Canopus,
and those who look upon the Sun-god’s rising and his setting.
He who alights on unfamiliar sands becomes a greater man17.

The poem puts natural and human subjects on an equal footing and predicates the traveller’s success upon his ability to bond with the unfamiliar. Conflating the perspective of rivers, lands, stars and men, the poem is also in keeping with the ethos of contemporary travel writers such as Lawrence Durrell who praises Leigh Fermor’s Mani (1958) for providing “an incomparable nature-study of the place” (Durrell 1988, 157) and explains:

[…] I have evolved a private notion about the importance of landscape, and I willingly admit to seeing ‘characters’ almost as functions of landscape. […] And this is, of course, the target of the travel-writer; his task is to isolate the germ in the people which is expressed by their landscape (Durrell 1988, 156).

19The protagonist here is the Dutch landscape that summons embedded artistic echoes. Behind the obvious reference to Pieter Brueghel’s The Fall of Icarus (1558), the reader also recognizes W. H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” published in 1938 and highlighting the cruelty of indifference:

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on (Auden 1994, 179).

Inviting his readers to view the Dutch landscape in the light of the museum and, simultaneously, in the tradition of poetic mirror effects conjured up by the painting, Leigh Fermor metamorphoses the landscape into an inherently hospitable space, a space which keeps reverberating and nurturing our poetic and ethical meditations. Leigh Fermor’s Dutch landscape brings the museum outdoors, thus breaking away from the “aesthetic detachment” (Heffernan 2004, 147) that the world of the museum traditionally implies and interrogating our own position as a viewing subject.

20Unlike the bird’s eye view chosen by Brueghel and by Auden, Leigh Fermor’s viewpoint brings our focus to the ground, level with the field, the trees, the sailing ship and the ploughman and summons a world where “every pace” is an invitation to contemplate art in everyday life and to dwell upon an intermedial and relational threshold. Leigh Fermor’s landscape vibrates with painterly, musical and poetic echoes, such as when “[o]n straight stretches of road where the scenery changed slowly, singing came to the rescue; and when songs ran short, poetry” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 91). There follows an anthology of Leigh Fermor’s intimate, portable library: Shakespeare, Spencer, Marlowe, Tennyson, Browning, Coleridge, Keats, Swinburne, Rossetti, Gray, Blake, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Donne, Raleigh, Wyatt, Chaucer, Carroll, Yeats, as well as French and Latin poets (Leigh Fermor 2005, 92-7) are mentioned in a desultory fashion and for a few pages the enumeration of poets supersedes the expected enumeration of sights that travel writing has accustomed us to. And just as Brueghel’s painting is brought out of the museum, literature is brought of the narrow realm of “compulsory” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 91) learning back into life:

Regulus brushing the delaying populace aside as he headed for the Carthaginian executioner […] called for a fairly mild flourish; but urging the assault party at Harfleur to close the wall up with English dead would automatically bring on a heightened pitch of voice and action […](Leigh Fermor 2005, 97).

  • 18 One may think, for instance of Michel Nicolas Bernard Lépicié’s Regulus sort de Rome pour se rendr (...)

Acting out Livy’s History of Rome, Leigh Fermor humorously stages himself in the role of the Roman historian bearing witness to the fate of great men. His histrionic rendering turns the event into a scene that cannot fail to conjure up in the reader’s mind a rich fine arts tradition of neo-classical French and British historical paintings that extolled the values of national loyalty and bravery18. Played out by a solitary wandering scholar gesticulating in the midst of Swabia, in a landscape of “[s]cattered conifers […] and woods” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 91), it is estranged from its originally glorious Roman context and acquires a satirical hue. Similarly, the tirade from Henry V (III, i) cannot fail to arouse the reader’s smile at this penniless King who, imitating “the action of the tiger,” calls to “close the wall up with our English dead” (Shakespeare 2005, 125). Such antics displace our reading of canonical texts and paintings and highlight Leigh Fermor’s ability to master literary and cultural references and to transform literature and the arts into a common territory where theatrical buffoonery places archetypal cultural monuments at a distance and elicits the reader’s amused response. Opening up travel literature to its latent strangeness, articulating epistemological and aesthetic patterns to subvert common reception, Leigh Fermor conjures up new configurations that remap tragedy as comedy and, debunking borders between high and low, he forces readers to readjust their visual accommodation to perpetually unstable distances.

Hospitality at Large

21True to the tradition of travel narrative, A Time of Gifts relies on dramatizing spatial distances that are simultaneously acknowledged and transcended. These distances—both actualized and counterbalanced by a recovered sensual proximity with space rendered possible through note taking—appear all the more problematic when Leigh Fermor loses his diaries. Being forced to write from memory implies, as the editors of The Broken Road suggest, that “these retrievals could develop less into a literal narrative than into memory-spurred recreations” (Thubron and Cooper 2014, xvi). Consequently, the process of detachment and self-othering of the subject is mirrored at the structural level by a narrative that welcomes “acts of poetic licence and conflation” (Thubron and Cooper 2014, xvi). Thus, branching out into unexpected digressions and articulating a medley of styles, the text precludes any linear reading. Unsurprisingly, it also refrains from reaching a point of arrival or return, and pursues tangential lines of exploration. Leigh Fermor reaches his final destination, Constantinople, which was indeed his initial aim, but this does not put an end to his journey. As the editors of The Broken Road explain:

Although Paddy reached Constantinople a few days afterwards, he never recorded it other than in his Green Diary: a record which, he admitted, was ‘a bit of an embarrassment.’

Strangely, even in this diary, he recounts nothing of the leftover Byzantine glories of the old capital […] and little of its Ottoman splendour. […]

Perhaps the end of his journey was weighing on him with the traveller’s bewilderment of at last reaching his goal, and the uneasy question of his future (Thubron and Cooper 2014, 265-6).

The few jottings in his diary briefly relating his stay in Constantinople come to a sudden end and

By the time he resumed [his diary], he had taken a train out of Constantinople to Salonika, and was about to board a boat to the great Orthodox monastic state of Mount Athos, where, for the first time, his diary becomes fully written (Thubron and Cooper 2014, 267).

The travel narrative veers away from the end, denying the reader the satisfying pleasure of a neat conclusion. The scattered impressions of Constantinople, followed by a blank, put Constantinople beyond our reach and forestall any sense of telos. Leigh Fermor, like Odysseus, sets on a journey that knows no end, exemplifying Edmond Jabès’s striking remark: “Wandering is what binds us together” (Jabès 1991, 46). Wandering is indeed the link between Leigh Fermor’s three volumes that allow the narrator to recapture his breath, to travel back to previous episodes and to reopen past analyses. Leaving us on the threshold of a closure that never takes place, Leigh Fermor holds us spellbound till the end, ensuring that the bond he has created with his readers goes well beyond the boundaries of the book.

22Reaching out across the threshold of his narrative to the journey resumed throughout the three volumes but never brought to an end, Leigh Fermor transforms that threshold into a crossing, both diegetic and stylistic. Indeed, The Broken Road is not the only volume that invites the reader into the intimacy of the writer’s diary. The Green Diary upon which the editors of The Broken Road heavily rely first appears in the last part of A Time of Gifts where it stands as the ultimate gift to the writer and to the readers who have witnessed the heart-wrenching theft of the first notebooks in Munich. The reader therefore experiences a sudden proximity both with the writing material, and with the traveller’s experience. Yet this proximity is also a delusion as Leigh Fermor acknowledges not having “interfered with the text except for cutting and condensing and clearing up obscurities” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 313)—which clearly amounts to a careful editing of his diary.

23The first extract, dated March 19th 1934 (Leigh Fermor 2005, 313-14), characterized by a shifting focalization that moves up and down, back and forth, introduces a sense of helplessness as the diarist progressively loses his bearings and linguistic fluency (Leigh Fermor 2005, 314). Significantly, this rising sense of estrangement coincides with the apparition of the radical other, namely, the animal: “My path ran through a hazel-wood where young roedeer bounced nimbly away, their white rumps twinkling in the undergrowth” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 314). This brief encounter with the animal world shifts the focus out of human bounds and paves the way for a meditation on the interconnection of the human and the animal realms to which the mature narrator returns in his last chapter:

It was getting darker […] Frog-time had come. Each pace, once more, unloosed a score of ragged parabolas and splashes. Flights of waterfowls detonated like spring-guns loosing off a whirr of missiles across the water. It was a world of scales and webbed feet and feathers and wet whiskers. Hundreds of new nests were joining the old ones in the damp green maze and soon there would be thousands of eggs and then wings beyond counting. […]

The fidgeting of moorhens and coots and of voles and water-rats doing the breast-stroke through the stems grew less frequent and every half-minute or so two bitterns—one quite near, the other perhaps a mile away—sounded across the vague amphibian world: loneliest of muffled cries, plainly to be heard above the shrill rise and fall of millions of frogs (Leigh Fermor 2005, 341-2).

24The smoothly rising tide of Leigh Fermor’s description, encompassing the biological diversity of river life, plays on alliterative patterns and broken syntax to transform the narrative into a close-up shot on what lies hidden and can only be heard by a patient, silent observer. Incidentally, it reframes the walker as the intruder trespassing on foreign territory and emphasizes his precarious hold upon a world where he is only a temporary guest, as Derrida argues:

The animal is there before me, there close to me, there in front of me […]. And also, therefore, since it is before me, it is behind me. It surrounds me. And from the vantage point of this being-there-before-me it can allow itself to be looked at, no doubt, but also […] it can look at me. It has his point of view regarding me. The point of view of the absolute other […].

One doesn’t need to be an expert to foresee that [these questions] involve thinking about what is meant by living, speaking, dying, being and world as in being-in-the-world or being-within-the-world […] (Derrida 2002, 380).

25Significantly, those amphibians, rodents and birds are scarcely to be seen in the growing darkness: they are sonorous presences that intimate the unexplored depths of the world. As such, they are an invitation to opt for the walker’s quieter and slower approach that leaves time for a meditative perambulation into our world and triggers a poetic listening that welcomes all kinds of life, as Marielle Macé urges us to:

“[…] one must acknowledge the role played by the natural world in our own sentient life and think the ‘coanimation’ of our senses and of what stimulates them. […]

  • 19 « […] il s’agit de reconnaître la part que prend le monde naturel à notre propre vie sensible, de (...)

Being stone, being river, being machine, being shore, being animal—all of them equally as modes of beings henceforth brought together on the same ontological and political scene, since we will have to bond with each of these forms of life and to lend an ear to each of these things (to their silence)” (Macé 2019, 22,25)19.

26A Time of Gifts turns our gaze towards what lies “quite near” (Leigh Fermor 2005, 342) and invites us to consider the myriad of hosts that belong to the continuum of the natural world, welcoming “man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society” (Thoreau 2012, 558). Walking against the spirit of the times, Leigh Fermor reasserts the pastoral essence of travel writing which, far from an outmoded nostalgic perambulation, offers a new, natural contract, a contract of empathy and immersion set against the social contract of domination.

27Leigh Fermor turns hospitality into the true art of everyday life by offering us, beyond the narrative of a young man’s discovery of Central Europe, the space of a memorable and collective crossing into a world where nothing is insignificant and where every single form of life is connected. Far from being the naïve and detached recording of a boy’s first brush with history, A Time of Gifts illustrates Leigh Fermor’s concern with the world we live in and his faith in hospitality: the one he repeatedly and gratefully enjoys on his travels, the one he offers to and arouses from his reader but also, more crucially, the hospitality fostered by art and by an insightful, patient attention to his surroundings. Opening the gates of memory to welcome the rustle of woods and ploughlands, birds and frogs, winds and rivers, A Time of Gifts summons a poetic abode where hospitality is the only rule. There, the life of the river sings along with Schubert’s Trout a song of hope and sorrow that winds its way round the horrors of war to reassert the powers of life over death:

‘It’s a pity you didn’t go on over the hills from St Florian,’ he said. ‘You would have got to the little town of Steyr, and the Enns valley’—this was the green tributary I had watched curling out of the hills opposite Mauthausen—‘[…] Schubert wrote the Trout quintet there. He was on a walking tour, like you.’ […] After a pause, he went on whistling the tune of The Trout. ‘I always think of streams running down to the Danube,’ he said, ‘whenever I hear it’ (Leigh Fermor 2005, 189).

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Auden, W. H. 1994. “Musée des Beaux Arts.” In Collected Poems. London: Faber, 179.

Bailly, Christophe. 2015. L’Élargissement du poème. Paris: Christian Bourgeois éditeur.

Benhaïm, André. 2021. Après Ulysse. Vers une poétique de l’hospitalité en Méditerranée. Paris: Hermann Editeurs.

Benveniste, Émile. 1969. Le Vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes. Paris: Minuit.

Blanton, Casey. 2002. Travel Writing, the Self and the World. London: Routledge.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. 2002. A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism & Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. London: Continuum.

Demopoulos, Margaret. 2012. “Patrick Leigh Fermor: We May Just Forget to Die.” The Massachusetts Review, vol.53, n°1 (Spring): 42-53.

Derrida, Jacques. 2000. Of Hospitality. Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond. Translated by Rachel Bowlby. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 2002. “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow).” Translated by David Wills. Critical Inquiry, vol.28, n°2 (Winter): 369-418.

Derrida, Jacques. 2021. “Première séance. Le 15 novembre 1995.” In Hospitalité. Volume 1. Séminaire (1995-1996). Paris: Seuil.

Durrell, Lawrence. 1988. “Landscape and character.” In Spirit of Place. Mediterranean Writings. London: Faber.

Foucault, Michel. 2013. La Grande étrangère. Paris: Éditions EHESS.

Fussell, Paul. 1980. Abroad. British Literary Traveling Between the Wars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Heffernan, James A. W. 2004. Museum of Words. The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jabès, Edmond. 1991. Le Livre de l’hospitalité. Paris: Gallimard.

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Le Huenen, Roland. 2015. Le Récit de voyage au prisme de la littérature. Paris: PUPS.

Leigh Fermor, Patrick. 2005. A Time of Gifts. On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube. London: John Murray.

Leigh Fermor, Patrick. 2014. The Broken Road. From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos. Edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper. London: John Murray.

Leigh Fermor, Patrick. 1992. The Art of Travel with Patrick Leigh Leigh Fermor. Interview with Annette Kobak. BBC4 released on: 25 Jan 1992,

Macé, Marielle. 2019.“Comment les oiseaux se sont tus.”Critique, n°860-861: 17-31.

MacNeice, Louis. 1949. Holes in the Sky: Poems, 1944-1947. New York: Random House.

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Montandon, Alain. 2002. Désirs d’hospitalité. De Homère à Kafka. Paris: PUF.

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Müller, Wilhelm. [1823]. English translations by William Mann from the booklet of Thomas Hampson’s recording of Winterreise. EMI Classics, 1997.

Shakespeare, William. 2005. King Henry V (c. 1599). Edited by Andrew Gurr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Thoreau, Henry David. 2012. “Walking” (1863). In The Portable Thoreau, edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer. London: Penguin.

Thouroude, Guillaume. 2017. La Pluralité des mondes. Le récit de voyage de 1945 à nos jours. Paris: PUPS.

Villeneuve, Guillaume. 2014. “L’esprit des lieux, Ière partie, sur Patrick Leigh Fermor.” Emission de Françoise Monier réalisée le 9 septembre 2014 sur Fréquence protestante. Guillaume Villeneuve, traducteur.

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1 In an interview with Annette Kobak in 1992 on BBC4 Leigh Fermor lists The Byzantine Achievement: An Historical Perspective, A.D. 330-1453, The Station: Travels to the Holy Mountain of Greece, and The Road to Oxiana.

2 Unless specified all translations are mine.

3 « […] dans la description se conjuguent deux instances, en soi autonomes, celle du savoir et celle de la durée. [… D]ans la relation de voyage, loin d’être réduite à une simple fonction ancillaire, la description occupe une place de prime importance, avec pour conséquence de substituer à l’organisation hiérarchique de la fiction une structure agonique qui trouve un écho […] dans l’ordre syntaxique de la mise en texte ».

4 « Le voyageur, à la limite, devient lui-même un voyagé, qui ne maîtrise plus ni l’itinéraire, ni la durée des escales […]. Pour comprendre cette passivité active, on peut faire appel à ce que Gilles Deleuze nomme “le pouvoir d’être affecté”. […] La puissance passe donc par une forme de passivité, c’est-à-dire une capacité à accueillir des affects, à se laisser transformer par eux […] à trouver la rhétorique qui rende compte de cette acceptation de la fragilité maximale. »

5 « La marche est une méthode d’immersion dans le monde, un moyen de se pénétrer de la nature traversée, de se mettre en contact avec un univers inaccessible aux modalités de connaissance ou de perception de la vie quotidienne. Au fil de son avancée, le marcheur élargit son regard sur le monde, trempe son corps dans une dimension inédite de l’existence. »

6 « Au xxe siècle on écrit – je pense bien entendu à la parole littéraire –, on écrit pour faire l’expérience et pour prendre la mesure d’une liberté qui n’existe plus que dans les mots mais qui là s’est faite rage. »

7 See Villeneuve, Guillaume. 2014. “L’esprit des lieux, Ière partie, sur Patrick Leigh Fermor.” Émission de Françoise Monier réalisée le 9 septembre 2014 sur Fréquence protestante. Guillaume Villeneuve, traducteur.

8 « […] l’hospitalité […] attend sa chance, […] elle se tend vers sa chance au-delà de ce qu’elle est, à savoir la paralysie sur le seuil qu’elle est. En ce sens, elle est toujours à venir, mais d’un à venir, qui ne se présente et ne se présentera jamais comme tel, comme présent. Penser l’hospitalité à partir de l’avenir, de cet avenir qui ne se présentera pas, ou qui ne se présentera que là où l’on ne l’attendra pas comme présent ou comme présentable, c’est la penser à partir de la mort non moins que de la naissance ».

9 “Will ’o the Wisp: Every stream will reach the sea; / every sorrow too its grave,” Müller [1823], translation by William Mann, 1997.

10 “The Tavern: Pitiless tavern, / do you turn me away?”

11 “Goodnight: A stranger I arrived here, / a stranger I go hence”.

12 “The Tavern: Then onward, lead me onward, / my trusty staff!”

13 “Pretence: my only success is in pretence!”

14 “The Signpost: Why do I pass the highways by / that other travellers take, / to seek out hidden tracks / through snowbound rocky heights?”

15 « Il apparaît que l’écriture du voyage s’accommode d’un rapport désabusé à l’histoire : les auteurs de récits de voyage ont en général une grande méfiance envers les systèmes idéologiques totalitaires […] ; [ils] utilisent […] le voyage comme manière de fuir les idéologies politiques, d’en relativiser la portée, ce qui, du point de vue temporel, inscrit leur récit dans un présent suspendu, étiré, car conscient de la fin des temps, c’est-à-dire sans espoir pour un monde à venir. »

16 « Le seuil est […] une zone de transition, un temps d’arrêt suivi d’un temps de mouvement. Le seuil c’est exactement ce qui se présente dès lors que l’on donne au temps le temps de se révéler dans la profondeur enchevêtrée de son cours […]. »

17 I am indebted to Prof. David Scourfield for this beautiful and precise rendering of Petronius’s poem which Leigh Fermor only partly translated (Leigh Fermor 2005, 19).

18 One may think, for instance of Michel Nicolas Bernard Lépicié’s Regulus sort de Rome pour se rendre à Carthage (1784) and Jacques-Augustin-Catherine Pajou’s Le départ de Regulus pour Carthage (1793), or Benjamin West’s The Departure of Regulus (1769) and the elusive and enigmatic rendering of William Turner’s Regulus (1828, reworked 1837).

19 « […] il s’agit de reconnaître la part que prend le monde naturel à notre propre vie sensible, de penser la « coanimation » de nos sens et de ce qui les sollicite. […] Être pierre, être fleuve, être machine, être rive, être bête : autant de modes d’êtres désormais rassemblés sur une même scène ontologique et politique – puisque c’est avec chacune de ces formes de vie que nous aurons à nous lier, et qu’à chacune de ces choses-là (à son silence) il s’agit de prêter l’oreille. »

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Isabelle Keller-Privat, « The Hospitality of Art—The Last Bulwark against the Hostility of History in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts »Viatica [En ligne], HS 6 | 2023, mis en ligne le 18 juin 2023, consulté le 23 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Isabelle Keller-Privat

CAS – EA 801, Université Toulouse 2 – Jean Jaurès

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