travel narrative (travel log) (Writer)



Travel, due to military, merchant, religious, or personal reasons, has always been a part of human activity, and the retelling of adventures experienced during traveling is one of the earliest forms of oral literature. Travelers’ diaries, letters home, and memoirs of exploration are all examples of travel narratives, from the Tosa Diary of Ki no Tsurayuki to the journals kept by world explorer Amerigo vespucci. Travel as part of the human quest emerges at the very beginnings of literature, in the journey of Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh and in the adventures of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. Even the rituals described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead entail travel from this world to the next.

As a literary genre, the travel narrative began to grow in popularity in the West during the 15th-century Age of Exploration. The spirit of the renaissance and its accompanying belief of humanism, which valued the power and inventiveness of human abilities, inspired the desire for discovery and a readiness to explore the wide world and make it familiar. Travel literature provided people with a chance to learn about the world without actually having to undertake a risky journey. In the 18th-century, travel narratives abounded as Europeans became more curious about cultures beyond their own borders. Women as well as men kept diaries, travel logs, and correspondence; two popular examples are The Journeys ofCelia Fiennes (1697) and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters (1717).

Travel narratives might be accounts of actual travel, such as adventures inside colonial America or travels taken to the Old World from the New, for instance, the autobiographical account of Olaudah equiano. Some popular narratives were descriptions of imaginary journeys, like Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan swift. Travel narratives also varied in their function. They could be purely entertaining, like the later adventure fiction of Jules Verne, or they could recount a spiritual journey or pilgrimage. These narratives were as frequently written by disappointed high society dandies as they were by devoted missionaries.

Travel narratives could also be highly political: A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow by Alek-sandr radishchev was considered so dangerous from a political point of view that czarist censorship prohibited its publication. The lead character of the Journey, a young, conscientious nobleman, travels between two major Russian cities. He makes subtle and revealing observations of the common people’s life, which boil down to harsh criticism of czarist Russia.

The popularity of the travel narrative as a genre has endured over the last several centuries. The works belonging to this vast field provide not only entertaining reading full of adventure, exoticism, and the spirit of discovery, allowing readers to explore the distant places and peoples of the world, but also a comparative perspective, helping readers to better understand their own culture and identity.

English Versions of Travel Narratives

Fish, Cheryl J. Black and White Women’s Travel Narratives: Antebellum Explorations. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Rodney Merrill. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

Maiden Voyages and Infant Colonies: Two Women’s Travel Narratives of the 1790s.

London: Cassell Academic, 1999.

Martin, Wendy, ed. Colonial American Travel Narratives. New York: Penguin, 1994.

Vivies, Jean, ed. English Travel Narratives in the Eighteenth Century. Translated by Claire Davison. Aldershot, Hampshire, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing, 2002.

Works about Travel Narratives

Brown, Christopher. Encyclopedia of Travel Literature. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2000.

Brown, Sharon Rogers. American Travel Narratives as a Literary Genre from 1542 to 1832.

Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993.

Gilroy, Amanda, ed. Romantic Geographies: Discourses of Travel, 1775-1844. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

Westrem, Scott D. Broader Horizons: A Study of Jo-hannes Witte de Hese’s Itinerarius and Medieval Travel Narratives. Cambridge, Mass.: Medieval Academy of America, 2001.

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