(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Eric Leed is well aware of the immensity of the task he has set for himself in trying to write a history of travel and its implications for intellectual and social history in general. Fortunately for his readers, he has not allowed himself to be deterred by that fact. Instead, he has outlined some of the major areas for research, passing lightly over some, delving deeper into others, all the while keeping a careful balance between the academic prose suitable for his subject matter and the brisk journalistic style appropriate for the wider audience he no doubt had in mind for the book. The sheer weight of material to be considered in such a study is daunting, but Leed deftly maneuvers the reader through it all using a combination of narration, analysis, and quotations from both travelers and observers of travelers.

Not counting the introduction and epilogue, the book has three major sections. They are at once thematic and chronological, covering literary, philosophical, and social histories of travel while at the same time gradually bringing the reader (with much jumping forward, backtracking, and the leaving of a few dead ends) up to modern times. This can be disorienting at first, but in the end it proves on the whole to be at once a reasonably clear ordering as well as an entertaining presentation of a difficult subject. From the start, it is clear that, though Leed is a historian, history is only one of the perspectives from which he has chosen to examine his theme. Interestingly, he actually quotes more from anthropologists and their kind than from observers from any other discipline. Arnold Van Gennep, Victor Turner, Mircea Eliade, Bronis aw Malinowski, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mary Douglas, Clifford Geertz, James Gibson, and Gregory Bateson are some of the more famous names that appear, usually more than once, in Leed’s list of references. This gives the book a decidedly ethnological flavor within the historical framework Leed uses to unify the threads of his combination story-and-argument. It turns out not to be a bad choice, since ethnologists may well understand the interface between primary experience (including travel) and the construction of social reality (including the historical understandings and interpretations of travel) better than anyone else.

The first section is called “The Structure of the Journey” and deals with many literary manifestations of travel, mostly ancient and medieval. Leed does not make a systematic distinction between literary and historical expressions of the structure of travel, perhaps because history is bound up with literary documents, and also because of Leed’s dependence upon ethnographic accounts of ritual passage. The latter emphasis lends much to the book and ties together pieces of data that otherwise would remain frustratingly underanalyzed. Furthermore, Leed tries to make the historical/literary connection via perceptual studies—seeking perhaps a kind of “universal grammar” of travel. Still, here is perhaps one of the weak points in Leed’s presentation, since literary and ritual versions of structure are inevitably more developed and purposeful than their historical counterparts. Thus, history looks more organized in this book than it may well have been, but in compensation the literary expression of the structure of travel is well analyzed indeed.

Departure, passage, and arrival, the three major components of the structure of travel (at least in its literary form), have distinct meanings, according to Leed. Departure has long been connected with heroism and yearnings after fame. Passage itself is often reported to produce altered mental states and even altered identities, something Leed explores in greater depth in the third section of the book. Finally, arrival is associated with conquest, eroticism, or both. Again, Leed has not systematically differentiated between different kinds of arrivals (homecoming, arrival at distant goal, conquest). Though he is aware of...

(The entire section is 1614 words.)