Literary Shelf

Travelogue as a Literary Genre

Travel Book, Travel Guide, Travel account and Travel Record all these can all be called travel writing. Some of these have relation more to history than to literature, since history in the past is sometimes culled from the explorer’s and traveller’s records. They are extremely valuable in spite of their not having high literary values. There is an encyclopedia of Literature of Travel and Exploration. Though these are called books and so literature, what makes a literary work is the unfolding or the revelation of the writer’s feelings, personality, imaginativeness and fine turns of expression, to describe some qualities essential for literary compositions.

Travelogue, the dictionary says is after monologue, which is narrative with the aid of slides and pictures before an audience. But nowadays all travel writing is included in the term Travelogue. KM George the compiler and editor of the Encyclopedia of Indian Literature included several entries from different languages under the head Travelogue. Broadly speaking Travel Essays may be just occasional pieces of writing of a comparatively transitory or ephemeral nature with no just claim to literary value. For example a Travel Guide, which is essential for a tourist has no literary merit in as such. Much of travel-writing is not primarily intended as a literary artifact.

Travel Accounts or Travel Literature needs to be looked at from the point of view of its purport, the manner of writing and the involvement of the writer’s personality to be accorded the status of literature. .Literary historians did not seem to be inclined to include travel writing as a genre or form of literature, both in our country and in the West. It is, however, not very easy to draw a clear line of distinction literary travel writing and non-literary writing. But some travelogues easily stand out as remarkable literary achievement.

We can generally agree that travelogue has a high degree of literary merit in conveying personally and informally the information relating to the journey, travel or peregrination involving spatial displacement. Travelogues, then, are primarily written in prose. It is helpful to agree that a travelogue, for our purpose here, is beyond recording observations without feeling or observations that do not arouse any feeling.

Travel Writing and its various Linkages

Travel essays could be primarily informative, offering worthwhile information to readers who wish to be travelers or tourists just as a hobby. As travel guides they are purely intended to give information regarding availability of food, facilities for accommodation, food etc indicating distances from various points to destinations, modes available for travel, places not be missed for sight seeing and such basic information.

Journey is a metaphor widely used in all literatures. It is used as a literary device in scriptures, epics and widely read literary artifacts. Travel is used in satire as in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver Travels or a means of conveying information in an interesting manner or Joseph Addison’s creation of a Citizen of the World, are cases in point. There is a whole genre in English Fiction well received as the Picaresque Novel.

Writers who produced travel accounts and travel-writing are from a variety of professions, temperaments, ages and climes. They have been adventurers, explorers, diplomats, scholars, missionaries, professionals like doctors and clergymen or just travel enthusiasts. Travel writings have linkages with History, Exploration and Adventure in its non-literary exposition and in its literary exposition with Autobiography and experience-related personality revelation. In both the categories, travel, movement, journey and peregrination are involved in different degrees. Travel literature meaning travel writing can be classified in several ways according to its linkage.

The travelogue – meaning literary exposition of travel experience – may conveniently be classified again as (a) fantasy described or given as exposition of fact, (b) literature of recorded fact and (c) literature of artistic presentation of recorded impressions and feeling during travel. The examples that readily come up to our minds are R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island of the 19th century of foreign travelers to India like Megasthanese’s Indica (of ancient times) and (c) Scinde or the Unhappy Valley of Richard Burton of the 18th century.

Fantasy is a very popular literary genre and Treasure Island is still a great favorite with school children. The adventure and the suspense elements take the reader forward with ease as well as urgency to know what happens next. The place is imaginary but the adventures portrayed are fantastic. The introduction of characters, the conflict and the denouement are dramatized before the reader with élan. This novel has a high literary quality. Journalism and travel together yielded travel journalism, a special category wherein journalists travel and produce works with their intrinsic journalistic flair – from the point of a journalist. Sometimes as in Graham Greenes’ Lawless Roads or his Journey without Maps, the writer’s personality and the journalistic presentation of facts are brilliantly presented. These have high literary value again. Sometimes a tourist group consisting several individuals go on a long travel, fore example on a pilgrimage to Kailash Manasarovar, the most important destination for Hindu religious enthusiasts next only Kashi (Varanasi, (Banaras) or Rameshwaram.

Travel as a literary mode and an adjunct in literary writing is evidenced in literatures of almost all languages. Homer’s Odyssey is an account of the travels of the hero Odysseus. Dante’s Divine Comedy is an account of a travel through the different regions of hell. This device is used in our epics and kavyas (imaginative literary poetic compositions), in Sanskrit and other Bhasha literatures in our country. In the title Ramayana yana refers to journey or travel of Rama. Mahabharata describes Arjun’s pilgrimages, again travels. In Bhagavatpuran Balaram Vidur takes to travels for self-purification. Kavyas too exploit travel motif as in Kalidasa’s Meghsandesh. In Hindi Rahul Sankrityayan (1893-1963), the culture icon, wrote several travel books of great literary value. In Malayalam KeshavMenon’s Bilayati vishesham published in 1930 belongs to the same category. In Gujarati Kaka Saheb Kalelkar wrote Jeevanleela, considered a classic and widely translated. Autobiographies record experiences, impressions revealing feelings, relating to certain incidents in one’s own life. Such a work may also contain travel experiences and travel-related information but these may either just be incidental or not of much importance.

Travelogue – The Fully Emerged Literary Genre

Not very long ago, it has been the trend to consider travel writing as peripheral to literary writing. Academics considered this writing as not very valuable to be considered literary. Owing to the emerging trends of travel experience among the different categories of travellers and tourists, travellers with religious considerations like acquiring merit (teerthayatras) travels with journalistic motivation, travels for probing, understanding and reading histories with a new point of view, with personal, spiritual and philosophical motives and aspiration, travelogues came in the limelight. Any systematic and aesthetic analysis of travelogue studies need to view the corpus selected for specified purpose with stress on the ‘W’s: who produced the discourse, where, when and how it is produced are all matters deserving study. W need to examine ‘when’ for broadly a travel discourse may belong to many categories, some of which readily could be stated. These categories do not purport to be exhaustive.

Ancient writing: Travel Records of foreign travellers in India, Megasthenes, Fahien, Huen Tsang, Al Beruni etc.

Medieval writing: travel Records in the medieval times: Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta, Nicolo Conte, Abdur Razak, Dom Manuel etc.

Pre Colonial and Colonial writing: Scorer, Tavernier, Captain Basil Hall, Count Herman Keiserling, etc.

Colonial Writing: Robert Burton, Edward Gibbon, Hakluyt, Mark Twain, etc.

The characteristics of each of the categories listed above are bound to be different. Tourist places of interest, cultural or religious destinations are spaces where different cultures throng, meet, interact and share information and experience. They are thrown into the company of one another to form and perceptions and exchange ideas and feelings. The visits and stay at destinations help forming, correcting and revising ideas and perceptions for the better. Today’s tourists and travelers are a thick medley of migrant, neo-settlers, short -time tourists and religious enthusiasts. Many a travelogue does contain literary merit and artistic excellence. Travel accounts as literature are widely varied. There is no homogeneity in this form though it is surely a genre. The purpose of writing may vary from writer to writer and from time to time. So too the degree of subjectivity in the writing.. Travelogue in the hands of imaginative-artistic people charter fresh regions (fresh fields and pastures new) clearly demarcating, mediating, reconciling or harmonizing cultures through observation, understanding and mutual appreciation. Widening horizons is precisely the purpose of a travelogue.

A historical study of various travel texts help us to understand our history as well as the personality of the individual travel writers, their attitude towards the life of the people they traveled among, the ways of governance in those periods among various other things. What those writers saw, felt and experienced and the degree of their subjectivity or objectivity in their writing can be studied. We have a huge body exclusively of travel literature to be studied and analyzed distinct from the mere factual details they recorded.

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More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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Views: 4123      Comments: 3

Comment respected sir ,i read your work on travelogue as a literary genre .it is really helpful for me.your work provide me an insight into the topic as i am doing research on travelogue.for future prospect i need your valuable time and help.

bushra jafri
07-Mar-2016 01:58 AM

Comment dear dubeyji
delighted to read your erudite piece on d h laurence's writing
even in our regional literature travels have been the themes enriching literature and this is an area that is usefully exploited by our young litterateurs.
all the best
stay in touch
rama rao

dr vvbramarao
17-Aug-2013 20:29 PM

Comment The paper may be inclusive of some of the books written by D.H.Lawrence and could have listed Twilight in Italy (1916), Sea and Sardinia (1923), Mornings in Mexico (1927) and Etruscan Places (1932) which tell of the travels interspersed with random reflections, subjective as well as impressionistic. Lawrence is very, very original here in these travelogues. Outside the circuit of civilzation is the call which the novelist gives in here. In search of a savage and pimitive life, in order to gain the bliss of life otherwise, he takes to the things in his own way. Away from dull monotony of routined life, mechanical and artificial, full of hectic intellectual activity and monotony coming in its trail, he just corroborates and substantiates his views and opinions through these digressions and deviations as he has wrtitten novels at the cost of poetry and poetic prose.
In Twilight in Italy, Lawrence tells about the beautiful crucifixes across the mountains dotting the Bavarian highlands, made as per the idea and image of the artists. In Etruscan Places, the novelist takes to the Etruscan things, going back to the heyday of Etruria.The Etruscan myths and motifs take the canvas of the travel-work. As Far As Palermo, The Sea, Cagliari, Mandas, To Sorgono, To Nuoro, To Terranova And The Steamer and Back are the eight chapters of the work, Sea and Sardinia. The isolated island of Sardinia is the thing of discussion here painted against the backdrop of mornings and evenings, the sunlight falling and setting, all that seen through the orange flare of light and when it gets dark. Mornings in Mexico is aboriginal and native as for the selection of his themes. A return to the primitive pleasure and faith is the thing undertaken here. Corasmin and the Parrots, Walking to Huayapa, The Mozo, Market Day, Indians and Entertainment, Dance of the Sprouting Corn, The Hopi Snake Dance and A Little Moonshine With Lemon are the chapters of the travel book. The novel, The Plumed Serpent (1926), is the result of his visit to Mexico and it is here where he mixes sexual mysticism with religious mysticism.

Bijay Kant Dubey
17-Aug-2013 12:35 PM

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