Travel Literature

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Travel Literature


the notes of a traveler, containing his impressions of the journey, descriptions of events, and observations. Travel literature seeks to communicate information about newly discovered lands or those little known to the reader; it may be the history of an imaginary journey presented as a real one but important chiefly in terms of ideological and literary content, as in adventure stories, utopias, and philosophic works.

Early travels coexisted with legends and traditions and drew upon them. Travel accounts dating from antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance have scientific, educational, and literary value. Examples include Herodotus’ History, Strabo’s comprehensive Geography, and Tacitus’ Germania, as well as such narratives by medieval traveling merchants as Marco Polo’s Book and A. Nikitin’s Journey Beyond the Three Seas. Accounts of missions to the East were written in the 13th century by G. Carpini and William of Rubruquis, and descriptions by pilgrims included The Journey of Daniil, the Russian Father Superior (1106–08).

The era of great geographic discoveries of the 15 th-16th centuries witnessed numerous travel descriptions, including writings by B. de Las Casas, Columbus’ ship’s log, Amerigo Vespucci’s letters, and the diary of A. Pigafetta, a traveling companion of Magellan. Similar works appeared in the ancient and medieval East, among them the writings of Chang Ch’ien (second century B.C.), Suleiman of Basra (ninth century), and Ibn Majid, Vasco da Gama’s pilot (16th century). The Venetian geographer Ramusio and the Englishman R. Hakluyt began systematically publishing travelers’ notes in 1550 and 1582, respectively.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, travel literature was expanded by documents, notes, and descriptions of sea and land voyages. Accounts of expeditions were written by La Salle, J. Cook, L. A. de Bougainville, La Pérouse, and V. J. Bering, and pirate expeditions and adventures were described in the notes of the Dutchman A. O. Exquemelin and the English buccaneer W. Dampier. Travel literature of the 19th century included factual records of real journeys, such as C. Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and the works of F. Nansen and N. N. Miklukho-Mak-lai, as well as literary travel sketches that sought to present the author’s own impressions and views. This genre was strongly influenced by L. Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (1768) and J. W. von Goethe’s Journey to Italy (1816–29), and in Russia by N. M. Karamzin’s Letters of a Russian Traveler and A. N. Ra-dishchev’s Journey From St. Petersburg to Moscow.

The travel sketch was developed by the romantics F. R. Chateaubriand (Voyage en A mérique, 1791, published 1827), and by A. M. L. de Lamartine, H. Heine, T. Gautier, and P. Mérimée. It assumed diverse forms in the 19th and especially the 20th century with A. S. Pushkin’s Voyage to Arzrum, V. P. Botkin’s “Letters on Spain,” I. A. Goncharov’s The Frigate Pallas, A. P. Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island, M. Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, H. Boll’s Irish Diary, Iu. Smuul’s Arctic Book, and V. Ov-chinnikov’s The Japanese Flowering Cherry Branch. The travel sketch has become a leading genre of publicistic writing.

In the 20th century, numerous factual accounts of travels are widely read as a type of popular science. They include T. Heyerdahl’s Aku-Aku and Kon-Tiki, A. Bombard’s Voyage of the Hérétique, B. A. Zenkovich’s Around the World After Whales, and F. Chichester’s How to Keep Fit.

Literature and folk epics have long drawn upon geographic descriptions and stories, including legendary and fictitious ones. Examples are the works of Homer and Virgil, Icelandic and Irish sagas, the popular medieval works The Voyage of St. Brendan and the Travels of J. Mandeville, chivalric novels, and the Thousand and One Nights. Works of the 15th through 18th centuries that described real travels were so popular that their content and structure became used to an ever greater extent in works of literature. Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India served as the subject for L. V. de Camões’ Os Lusíadas. Travels and discoveries provided plots for works by Rabelais and Shakespeare. Philosophic and social-utopian novels of the 16th and 17th centuries were in the form of travel notes or recollections of wondrous lands; examples are works by T. More, F. Bacon, and C. de Bergerac.

The 18th-century Enlightenment novel of travel contained traits of the adventure, philosophic, and psychological novel and of the novel of manners, but travel adventures were the plot’s motive force. These developments are seen in D. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), J. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, T. Smollett’s Travels Through France and Italy, and L. Holberg’s Niels Klim’s Journey Under the Ground. In the 19th century, fictional travel literature was written by romantics (Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Melville’s Moby Dick) and by neoromantics (R. Stevenson and H. R. Haggard). Important 20th-century works of fictional travel literature with a factual basis are novellas by S. Zweig and V. K. Arsen’ev’s Dersu Uzala.

The forms and literary devices of fictional travel literature have been used most widely by science fiction and adventure literature.


Hennig, R. Nevedomye zemli, vols. 1–4. Moscow, 1961–63. (Translated from German.)
Puteshestviia i geograficheskie otkrytiia ν XV-XIX vv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Roboli, T. “Literatura puteshestvii.” In Russkaia proza, Leningrad, 1926.
Kotrelev, N. V. “Vostok ν zapiskakh evropeiskogo puteshestvennika.” In Tipologiia i vzaimosviazi srednevekovykh literatur Vostoka i Zapada. Moscow, 1974.
Atkinson, G. Les Relations des voyages du 18 siècle et l’évolution des idées. Paris, 1924.
Rehm, W. Der Reiseroman. Berlin, 1928.
Gove, P. B. The Imaginary Voyage in Prose Fiction. London, 1961.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Despite these reservations, Khanmohamadi's book provides a refreshing account of medieval travel literature from the recent position of postcolonial medieval studies.
First, Mathew Thomas Fehskens shows the "transatlantic counter modernity" in the travel literature of Ruben Dario (18671916), Juan Ramon Jimenez (1881-1958), Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), and Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) in his article "The Contact Zones of Modernista Travel Literature: Modernism, Modernity, and the Hispanic Atlantic." By using travel literature, Fehskens shows the inseparable connection between space and time.
"In refusing previous models," Vescovi (2002: 99) points out, "Dickens had to create ex nihilo a new poetic of travel literature", a poetic which shunned descriptions, let alone practical information, in favour of figurative language and imagery with a combination of realism, fiction and surrealism that foreshadows postmodern traits.
26), a theory taken from the experiences of colonial women travellers that Loingsigh adapts for the African writer of travel literature, used to strong effect in the context of the nascent post-colonial nation and the figure of the returner.
Travel literature as a genre, as the author points out, is in constant formation, open to theory but also exact in its historical and cultural relevance.
Many works came to the American market as exotic treasures as interest in and travel to the Middle East from Europe and the United States exploded, spawning a vast travel literature and piquing curiosity on both sides of the Atlantic about "The Orient."
At the end of the eighteenth century, the study of travel literature was an alternative to academic studies.
The book discusses well-known European writings, such as those of Marco Polo and Odoric of Pordenone, but also looks at some travel literature from outside Europe.
Even readers unfamiliar with Boccaccio might find much to appreciate in the volume's many descriptions of late medieval travel literature by numerous other authors, as well as in the thirty-one color reproductions of medieval maps and other illustrations from a variety of manuscripts that are included at the end of the book.
Influenced especially by Tzvetan Todorov's analysis of early modern European travelogues, travel literature has provided a strong heuristic for comprehending the development of modern and contemporary expressions of the international.
A fun collection, perfect for any general lending library strong in travel literature!