A TASTE FOR TRAVEL: An Anthology by John Julius Norwich


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An unsatisfying grab bag of excerpts from travel's literature, lassoed together' into chapters where the paragraphs pile up against one another without rhyme or reason. Norwich, whose History of Venice was widely praised, is erudite; perhaps his taste is more in question here. For example, he includes much by Robert Byron, but nothing by Lord Byron, whose prose about Mediterranean regions is unforgettable. Likewise, he omits the other main English 18th-century traveller, William Beck-ford. For the 20th century, many chunks of Evelyn Waugh are here, but nothing at all by Norman Douglas, one of the better travel writers. Instead, Norwich finds room for Sylvia Plath, whom he dubs ""the American poetess,"" reprinting part of a postcard the writer once sent home. in some cases, the scholarship displayed here is lackadaisical. Norwich might have easily found out that, in fact, Louis MacNeice wrote all the prose passages in his and W.H. Auden's Letters from Iceland. indeed, perhaps avoidance of scholarship kept out from this book the great ancient travellers of Rome, not to mention medieval types like St. Brendan, or Renaissance personalities like Montaigne. Instead, Norwich predictably presents Paul Theroux. The only brief breaks from gobs of prose are two song lyrics by Noel Coward, quoted in their entirety, which, while entertaining enough, seem beside the main point of offering differing records of the travelling experience. Norwich's book, if anything, suffers from a superficiality in seeking sources, most notably in the British writers selected, oddly enough. D.H. Lawrence's wonderful passages on Italy are ignored, and Sacheverell Sitwell's many interesting books are also passed over in favor of his brother Osbert's less compelling records. Overall, then, an opportunity missed. Most readers will find unfamiliar material here, but it is by no means the best available unfamiliar material.

Pub Date: March 12th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf