This wonderful and evocative book looks at British travel writing between the wars; taking in the period just after WWI, to the darkening mood in the late 1930's as another war loomed. After the first world war, those who had either been stuck in the freezing trenches, or just unable to travel because of the wartime restrictions, dreamt of the freedom of going abroad. Warmth, liberation and sheer pleasure beckoned a generation that had spent years dreaming of simply being somewhere else. However, there were changes - for example, passports were a novel instrument, by which England restricted travel during the war. Before 1915, no European states, except Russia and the Ottoman Empire, requited a passport for admittance. It was a wartime emergency regulation which was convenient for the government and not repealed after the war. Also, European frontiers had been redrawn to reward the victors and humiliate the losers. Yet, into this changed Europe - and beyond - travellers ventured.
The author states, "before tourism there was travel and before travel there was exploration." As travel writer Paul Theroux has observed, travel writing is a funny thing, as "the worst trips make the best reading." In this book, Paul Fussell looks at some of the greatest travel writers of this period, such as Graham Greene, Robert Byron, D.H. Lawrence and Evelyn Waugh. It was a time when travel was slower - trains and ships, rather than flying, was the norm. There were places to be explored that were truly different and remote. This book muses on travel companions, romance and travel books themselves. Apart from being an interesting read, this book also made me think I must explore some books I have not yet read and re-read some favourites. A real pleasure and highly recommended.
on 16 February 2015
Much has been written about a decline in travel writing. It is no longer as relevant now as it once was as it is easy and cheap to pick up a flight on the internet and go just about anywhere - so the argument goes. Who needs to read about someone else's holiday stories? Fussell's excellent book about a golden period of travel writing between the wars pays due respect to the genre at a time when it was flying high. How else would readers back then know about dark corners of the globe? Travel writing filled in the gaps.
Fussell explains that the First World War left a lot of writers in search of the exotic, desiring escape. He quotes Max Plowman's poem "When it's Over" to set up this background theme: "I shall lie on a beach/ Of a shore where the rippling waves just sigh,/ And listen and dream and sleep and lie/ Forgetting what I've had to learn and teach/ And attack and defend."
Memories of trench warfare and the dreariness of post war life for many - Fussell lists a long run of depressing adjectives used by Orwell to describe conditions at the time - sent squadrons of writers to distant shores. He goes through the stories of DH Lawrence, Graham Greene, Norman Douglas, Evelyn Waugh and Robert Byron, touching on the works of Conrad, Patrick Leigh Fermour, Edith Wharton and many others.
There's a sense of the romance of travel in their various tales that seems gone these days, Fussell reflects. His examination of the literary output of the period is a kind of "elegy" to a more evocative time, he admits at the end. This elegy is done well but it's also a reminder of the sad drop-off in travel writing of late. And, when you think about it, all literature on all levels is left worse off as a result. The excitement and romance of travel enhances novels, films, plays, poetry... a pity to think that senses may have been dulled by the easyjet-Internet age.
Anyway, it's extremely thought provoking - a great book.
on 20 March 1998
Time was when travel was as memorable an adventure as a stunning love affair, a divorce, a personal catastrophe. That time was between the wars -- the Great War and WW2 -- and no group of observers was better positioned to write of it than the great British travel commentators. You will think differently about the activity and meaning of travel after you read this captivating, if occasionally slow-going book by one of the finest observers of the 20th century at work today. And not least of all ABROAD takes you back into the world of T. E. Lawrence's time, when ships were the only way to cross the seas.