The past is brought to life in this reproduction of an early 20th-century travel journal.
Cox (Immigrant Pathways in and near Fox Hill—Fox Point: A Journey through History, 2016) presents the edited journal of Ruth Kent, who went on a “Grand Tour” of Europe with her sister and parents in 1902, following her graduation from Smith College. Kent traveled from New England to Germany, and also ventured into neighboring areas such as Switzerland and the Netherlands. She recounts her many experiences as she and her family explored Europe in a variety of fashions, including horse and carriage, train, boat, and an early-edition automobile. Kent’s writing focuses on both the large and small facts of her trips. She describes everything from the breathtaking architecture of cathedrals and castles to the mundane details of her days, such as the meals she ate and the foibles of their breakdown-prone car. Kent and her family met many other travelers on their journey, including a Spanish countess, English aristocrats, and even other young women from Kent’s school in New England on Grand Tours of their own. The diary delivers a look at life at the turn of the 20th century, and in particular a popular vacation trend from that era. Reading Kent’s words reveals a snapshot of economic privilege, Victorian-influenced social norms, and a landscape that would become the hotbed of World War I roughly a decade later. The color photographs that accompany the journal, while occasionally out of focus, provide context for Kent’s adventures and help the reader understand the various locations that she describes. But the journal’s biggest strength is also its occasional weakness—the ordinariness of her encounters. While it can be engrossing from a historical perspective to examine the minutiae of Kent’s days (down to the dishes used to serve afternoon tea), readers wanting a tale of thrilling escapades or eventful treks will likely be disappointed. Although Kent keeps a fairly precise account of her travels, very little occurs that is remarkable.
A glimpse into the past that is more intriguing for the details of the period that it reveals than for the narrative it presents.