Travel Literature

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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.


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