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Journal - On Travel Writing & Travelers Pt2

V.S. Naipaul

V.S. Naipaul

S. Naipaul, is a British novelist of Hindu heritage and East Indian ethnicity from Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, which was then a British colony. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001 and was also knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He is married to Lady Nadira. A scion of the politically powerful Capildeo family, Sir Vidia is the son, older brother and uncle of published authors (Seepersad Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul and Neil Bissoondath respectively).

According to New Yorker book critic James Wood, Naipaul's rootlessness and discontent gave his writing an edge and an honesty that often resulted in greatness. "There is something sharp and painful and perpetually interesting about a writer and about a person who can't transcend those wounds and can't heal them and who, as it were, is walking down the street baring the wound absolutely open and vulnerable," he says. "And I think that's something that remained true about his work and about his personality to the end." Naipaul spent his last years with his second wife in the English countryside, far away from his homeland of Trinidad.

Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux was born on April 10, 1941. An American novelist and travel writer, he was known for his highly personal observations on many locales. Theroux graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1963. Until 1971 he taught English in Malawi, Uganda, and Singapore; thereafter, he lived in England and devoted all his time to writing.

Theroux first achieved commercial success with a best-selling travel book, The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), describing his four-month train journey through Asia. His subsequent travel books include The Old Patagonian Express (1979), The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992), The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean (1995), and Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (2002).

He returned to many of the locales he explored in The Great Railway Bazaar to write Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Railway Bazaar (2008). He blended anecdotes from his own experiences abroad with travel writing from an array of literary figures in The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road (2011). The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari (2013) recounts a harrowing journey up the western coast of Africa, and Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads (2015) relates his meanderings through the poverty-stricken regions of the American South.

Pierre Loti

Pierre Loti

Pierre Loti, the pseudonym of Louis-marie-julien Viaud, was born on Jan. 14, 1850, Rochefort, France. He was a novelist whose exoticism made him popular in his time and whose themes anticipated some of the central preoccupations of French literature between World Wars.

Loti’s career as a naval officer took him to the Middle and Far East, thus providing him with the exotic settings of his novels and reminiscences. Following his naval schooling and training, he was promoted ship’s lieutenant in 1881 and during 1885–91 saw service in Chinese waters. His subsequent promotions led to an appointment as ship’s captain in 1906.

An exceptionally gifted observer, he was able to return from his voyages with a rich store of pictorial images and embody them in simple, musical prose. But this literary impressionism served a deeper strain in his nature; death, as much as love, lies at the heart of his work, revealing a profound despair at the passing of sensuous life.

Loti’s penchant for dressing in foreign costume, whether in Turkey, in Morocco or at the elaborate soires he held in Rochefort, came partly from his desire to slip into a world other than his own,” wrote Arthur Clark in an essay on Loti and the Orient. “It reflected his wish to be someone other than who he was, a small-statured man who was never quite comfortable with the time and place into which he had been born.”

George Orwell

George Orwell

Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on 25 June 1903 in eastern India, the son of a British colonial civil servant. He was educated in England and, after he left Eton, joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, then a British colony. He resigned in 1927 and decided to become a writer. In 1928, he moved to Paris where lack of success as a writer forced him into a series of menial jobs. He described his experiences in his first book, 'Down and Out in Paris and London', published in 1933. He took the name George Orwell, shortly before its publication. This was followed by his first novel, 'Burmese Days', in 1934.

Late in 1936, Orwell travelled to Spain to fight for the Republicans against Franco's Nationalists. He was forced to flee in fear of his life from Soviet-backed communists who were suppressing revolutionary socialist dissenters. The experience turned him into a lifelong anti-Stalinist.

In 1945, Orwell's 'Animal Farm' was published. A political fable set in a farmyard but based on Stalin's betrayal of the Russian Revolution, it made Orwell's name and ensured he was financially comfortable for the first time in his life. 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' was published four years later. Set in an imaginary totalitarian future, the book made a deep impression, with its title and many phrases - such as 'Big Brother is watching you', 'newspeak' and 'doublethink' - entering popular use.

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915–2011) was an intrepid traveler and a heroic soldier who is widely considered to be one of the finest travel writers of the twentieth century. After his stormy school days, followed by the walk across Europe to Constantinople that begins in A Time of Gifts (1977) and continues through Between the Woods and the Water (1986) and The Broken Road (published posthumously in 2013), he lived and traveled in the Balkans and the Greek archipelago.

His books A Time to Keep Silence (1957), Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966) attest to his deep interest in languages and remote places. In the Second World War he joined the Irish Guards, became a liaison officer in Albania, and fought in Greece and Crete. He was awarded the DSO and OBE. In 2004 he was knighted for his services to literature and to British–Greek relations.

Robert Byron

Robert Byron

Byron was born in 1905, and educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford, from which he was expelled for his hedonistic and rebellious manner.

Byron travelled to widely different places; Mount Athos, India, the Soviet Union, and Tibet. However it was in Persia and Afghanistan that he found the subject round which he forged his style of modern travel writing, when he later came to write up his account of The Road to Oxiana in Peking, his temporary home.

Byron died aged 35 in 1941 after his ship, the SS Jonathan Holt, was torpedoed by submarine, in the North Atlantic. His body was never found.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

When asked of the impact Robert Louis Stevenson had on the literary world, many would point to his widely renowned works of fiction: Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. While both beloved texts, fiction was not the source of his initial success. Stevenson’s early travel writing was a driving force for his literary career and has continued to influence the way people write about travel even today.

Of his time, Stevenson was as well travelled as anyone could possibly hope to be. His journeys to the US and his eventual relocation to Samoa made him a travel celebrity, and later informed his work to a tremendous degree. His writing style employed a personal touch that was rare to travel writing at the time, and his focus on individuals rather than cultural stereotypes set his work apart from that of his contemporaries.

Norman Douglas

Norman Douglas

Norman Douglas was born on December 8, 1868, Thüringen, Austria. He was an essayist and novelist who wrote of southern Italy, where he lived for many years. All his books, whether fiction, topography, essays, or autobiography, have a charm arising from Douglas’s uninhibited expression of a bohemian, aristocratic personality. His prose is considered somewhat near the perfection of the conversational style.

Douglas was born of an old Scottish landowning family, which had intermarried with German aristocrats, and he attended the Gymnasium at Karlsruhe, Germany, where he showed a precocious gift for both languages and natural science. He entered the British Foreign Office in 1893 but spent only about three years on diplomatic service (in Russia), after which he travelled widely in India, Italy, and North Africa.

His first notable book was Siren Land (1911) and his first popular success the satirical novel South Wind (1917). Perhaps the richest of his books is Old Calabria (1915) and the most self-revealing, his informal autobiography Looking Back (1933).