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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

     Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Travel Quotation

“One feels in his presence that the best guide-books are far more than informational aids, more even than literature, but are manuals of sensibility.”
―Jan Morris, “Through My Guide-Books,” (on Richard Ford, Handbook for Spain, 1845), in Travels

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Book Review

A Little Tour in France.
By Henry James. Illustrations by Joseph Pennell. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987, 256 pp.

Useful as they are for information about other countries, travel books are also valuable as guides to travel itself. At their best, these books suggest ways of perceiving foreign countries and cultures. By revealing what others have made of their journeys, they also help us think about our own.

Henry James set off on his Little Tour in France in 1882, to explore the country beyond Paris or, as he put it, to demonstrate that “though France might be Paris, Paris was by no means France.” Heading south from Paris through Tours, James circled through Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Vaucluse, and other towns and cities, observing chateaux, Roman ruins, and scenery, and concluding his journey at Dijon. Read More 
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Book Review

Begums, Thugs and White Mughals: The Journals of Fanny Parkes.
By Fanny Parkes. Edited by William Dalrymple. Originally published in 1850 as Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque. Eland Books, 2002, 392pp.

“Can you imagine anything so detestable?” writes Fanny Parkes in an 1835 journal entry about the behavior of Europeans at the sacred Taj Mahal. “European ladies and gentlemen have the band to play on the marble terrace, and dance quadrilles in front of the tomb!” Earlier on her pilgrimage to the Taj, she remarks: “A place is spoiled by European residence.”

These are not the attitudes we expect from a memsahib of the British Raj. But Fanny Parkes defied most stereotypes, which is one of the reasons her journals are so remarkable. Read More 
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Book Review

The Head-Hunters of Borneo: A Narrative of Travel Up the Mahakkam and Down the Barito. Also: Journeyings in Sumatra.
By Carl Bock. Introduction by R.H.W. Reece. Oxford University Press, 1986 (USA), 360 pp.


In the 1980s travel literature became so popular that publishers, while bringing out new titles, also began to reissue old ones. Surveying the genre’s rich and curious past, they sought out books that were successful or important in their own time and might interest contemporary readers. One of these notable books, reclaimed by Oxford in Asia Paperbacks, was The Head-Hunters of Borneo, by the Norwegian naturalist Carl Bock. Read More 
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Travel Quotation

The greatest travelers travel alone.
―John Julius Norwich, A Taste for Travel

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Book Review

Where Nights Are Longest: Travels by Car Through Western Russia.
By Colin Thubron. Originally published in England (1983), as Among the Russians. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987, 212 pp.

“Nobody from the West enters the Soviet Union without prejudice,” says Colin Thubron at the start of Where Nights Are Longest. “But I think I wanted to know and embrace this enemy I had inherited.”

In many ways, these sentiments evoke another era. Indeed, setting off in the summer of 1980, Thubron was traveling before Glasnost, and it isn’t surprising that his exploration of attitudes—the Soviets’ and his own—found his negative biases confirmed. But his depiction of Soviet power provides a good background for thinking about Russia today. Read More 
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Travel Quotation

“And yet it is every traveler’s conceit that no one will see what he has seen: his trip displaces the landscape, and his version of events is all that matters. He is certainly kidding himself in this, but if he didn’t kid himself a little, he would never go anywhere.”
―Paul Theroux, Kingdom by the Sea Read More 
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