Temperamental Journeys

Interest in travel literature has grown tremendously over the last decade, notes Michael Kowalewski, but critical attention has not kept pace. To remedy this situation, Kowalewski has put together this wide-ranging collection of essays. The average reader may feel indifferent to questions of critical neglect, but almost anyone picking up this volume will come away with a long reading list and a serious case of wanderlust.

Most of Kowalewski’s contributors are American, and most of the books discussed are American and English. Easily the liveliest piece is Paul Fussell’s “Travel and the British Literary Imagination of the Twenties and Thirties,” excerpted from his critical and popular success, ABROAD (1980). Heather Henderson reaches back to Alexander Kinglake (1809-1891) and forward to Philip Glazebrook, whose JOURNEY TO KARS (1984) across the former Ottoman Empire attempts to recapture the experience of his great Victorian predecessors, with culturally mixed results.

Americans evaluated include Richard Halliburton, whose ROYAL ROAD TO ROMANCE (1925) was a best seller, and John Gunther. Gunther’s “Inside” books were midcentury staples, and it’s gratifying to see Terry Caesar declare INSIDE ASIA (1939) and INSIDE AFRICA (1955) “uncategorizable masterpieces.” Bringing us up to date, Mark Z. Muggli discusses “Joan Didion and the Problems of Journalistic Travel Writing,” and William Least Heat-Moon talks about his own BLUE HIGHWAYS (1982) and PRAIRY-ERTH (1991).

The list of writers discussed here is almost, but not quite, endless, which leads us to a problem, that the century’s premier travel writers are slighted. Freya Stark’s books about the Middle East have not been surpassed, nor have Norman Douglas’s accounts of his ramblings in southern Italy and Lawrence Durrell’s evocations of life in the Greek islands—but none receives more than a mention here. (This despite the fact that Kowalewski borrows his title from Douglas!) TEMPERAMENTAL JOURNEYS may well be, as Kowalewski points out, “the first collections of essays to focus exclusively on twentieth-century travel writing,” but there’s a sizeable hole at its heart.