British Literary Traveling Between The Wars
"Before tourism there was travel, and before travel there was exploration." Fussell, who sounds in his wittier moments like S. J. Perelman turned professor, is too much the tenderfoot and ben vivant for exploration, and he heartily loathes tourism. But, ah, travel! In Fussell's idealistic, embittered view, travel is a supremely humanistic activity, and never more so than when the traveler is a gifted writer, conscious of the past and capable of translating the myths of heroic adventure and pastoral romance into terms of wagon-lits and steamships (not jet planes). Fussell identifies the Twenties and Thirties as the last great age of literary travel, and in this knowledgeable, elegant study he celebrates it and laments its passing. Taking up where The Great War and Modern Memory left off, Fussell chronicles the explosion of travel from Britain after the depressing confinement of WW I: D. H. Lawrence to Italy, Graham Greene to Africa, Peter Fleming to China and Brazil, Auden and Isherwood to America and elsewhere, Robert Byron to "Oxiana," Evelyn Waugh to Abyssinia, etc., etc. Fussell doesn't limit himself to spirited appreciations of their work. He also neatly illuminates the genre, connecting it to his authors' native eccentricity, individualism, and distrust of authority (he memorably defines the traveler as "a hypertropied freak of British empiricism"). Best of all perhaps, he puts his criticism in a colorful personal frame, by relating his own doomed comic-romantic attempts at travel in a world ruled by tourism. In this irascibly lyrical vein Fussell is as good as the people he writes about--which is very good indeed.