Robert Byron Criticism - Essay

Graham Greene (essay date 1937)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Byronic East," in The London Mercury, Vol. XXXVI, No. 212, June, 1937, pp. 195-96.

[In the following review of The Road to Oxiana, Greene discusses what he considers the book's strengths and shortcomings.]

"Samarcand, for the last fifty years, has attracted scholars, painters, and photographers. Thus the setting of the Timurid Renaissance is conceived as Samarcand and Transoxiana, while its proper capital, Herat, remains but a name and a ghost. Now the position is reversed. The Russians have closed Turkistan. The Afghans have opened their country. And the opportunity arrives to redress the balance. Strolling up the road towards the minarets, I feel as one might feel who has lighted on the lost books of Livy or an unknown Botticelli."

It is this mixture of scholarship and romanticism that gives Mr. Byron's account of a journey through Persia and Afghanistan [The Road to Oxiana] its unusual and agreeable flavour: the poetic imagination which evokes a personal East so vividly—the roses stuck in the rifles of Afghan soldiers, the opium flowers "glowing in the dusk like lamps of ice, " the dead wolf under a wild fruit tree in pink blossom—is strengthened by the architectural detail, so that at their best his descriptions have the merits of two worlds. Take, for example, his account of the doorways in Persepolis:

Other architectural features are the stairs, the platform, and the palace doors. The stairs are fine because there are so many of them. The platform is fine because its massive blocks have posed, and solved, an engineering problem. Neither...

(The entire section is 694 words.)

G. M. Young (essay date 1948)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cities and Harvests," in Daylight and Champaign, revised edition, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1948, pp. 28-34.

[In the following essay, Young praises Byron's display of insight and adept prose style in The Road to Oxiana.]

A diary is not to be judged like other books, because in real life incidents will not happen in the right order, or observe their proper artistic balance. Mr. Byron's objective was the Oxus: his route was by Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Damascus into Persia; and thence by Afghanistan and the Khyber to Peshawar. But though his appeal to the Minister of the Interior of Turkestan might have melted a stone—a stone being assumed to have no appreciation of...

(The entire section is 1997 words.)

Bruce Chatwin (essay date 1981)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Introduction to The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron, Pan Books, 1981, pp. 9-15.

[In the following essay, Chatwin expresses his admiration for The Road to Oxiana.]

Anyone who reads around the travel books of the thirties must, in the end, conclude that Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana is the masterpiece. Byron was a gentleman, a scholar and an aesthete, who drowned in 1941 when his ship to the Mediterranean was torpedoed. In his short life he travelled as far as China and Tibet, and to most of the countries nearer home. In 1928 he published The Station, an account of a visit to the monasteries of Mount Athos, and followed it up with...

(The entire section is 2764 words.)