The Lady now finding her self in so strange a place, and amongst such wonderful kind of Creatures, was extreamly strucken with fear, and could entertain no other Thoughts, but that every moment her life was to be a sacrifice to their cruelty; but those Bear-like Creatures, how terrible soever they appear’d to her sight, yet were they so far from exercising any cruelty upon her, that rather they shewed her all civility and kindness imaginable; for she being not able to go upon the Ice, by reason of its slipperiness, they took her up in their rough arms, and carried her into their City, where instead of Houses, they had Caves under ground; and as soon as they enter’d the City, both Males and Females, young and old, flockt together to see this Lady, holding up their Paws in admiration; at last having brought her into a certain large and spacious Cave, which they intended for her reception, they left her to the custody of the Females, who entertained her with all kindness and respect, and gave her such victuals as they used to eat; but seeing her Constitution neither agreed with the temper of that Climate, nor their Diet, they were resolved to carry her into another Island of a warmer temper…
—The Blazing World and Other Writings (1666) by Margaret Cavendish
My words may appear bold and even revolting; for the sensitive self-love of the Russians imposes upon foreigners duties of delicacy and propriety to which I do not submit. My sincerity will render me culpable in the eyes of the men of this country. What ingratitude! The minister gives me a feldjager; the presence of his uniform spares me all the difficulties of the journey; and therefore am I bound, in the opinion of the Russians, to approve of every thing with them. That foreigner, they think, would outrage all the laws of hospitality if he permitted himself to criticize a country where so much regard has been shown towards him. Notwithstanding all this, I hold myself free to describe what I see, and to pass my opinion upon it.
The Russians are always on their guard against truth, which they dread: but I, who belong to a community where every thing is transacted openly, why should I embarrass myself with the scruples of these men, who say nothing, or merely darkly whisper unmeaning phrases, and beg their neighbours to keep them a secret. Every open and clearly-defined statement causes a stir in a country where not only the expression of opinions, but also the recital of the most undoubted facts, is forbidden. A Frenchman cannot imitate this absurdity; but he ought to note it.
Russia is governed; God knows when she will be civilized.
—Empire of the Czar: A Journey Through Eternal Russia (1839) by Astolphe-Louis-Léonor, Marquis de Custine
If there’s one thing that reading these books so closely together drove home, it’s how fantastical travelogues emphasize the pleasures and wonders and marvels of the journey, while actual, real travelogues emphasize how annoying and awful travel can be. Real travelogues will include at least some ranting, while fantastical ones often emphasize the amazing and wonderful nature of the places visited.
This pattern may not be universal, but it does seem to hold when I think over things I’ve read in the past—from travel writings by Mary Wollstonecraft and Isabella Bird Bishop to fantastical stories of travel by authors like Jonathan Swift and Marco Polo’s Travels (significant portions of which it’s believed are retellings of others’ stories). There are exceptions, of course, like Peter Mayne’s jolly and amusing A Year in Marrakesh (discussed here), but I think the pattern overall holds… probably for good reason. Visiting a foreign place involves the actual discomfort and dislocation of travel; fantasy, the spectacle and splendor without the trouble.
I guess even travel writing is characterized by the tension between the idealization of possibility and the annoyance we feel at things going wrong. (That is to say, they are on some level punctuated by the same tension that Charles Elkins and Darko Suvin identify as everpresent in fiction novels, between what they call the “ideological” and the “utopian” poles.)
There’s more to say, of course, about each. Continue reading