October 22, 2007

A Book of Travellers' Tales

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This was a useful discovery in Leamington's Oxfam Books this weekend (in fact, I had a good weekend for second-hand buys as I also picked up Angela Carter's Love and Heroes and Villains, a copy of Charlotte Brontes' Tales from Angria which includes many of the Brontes' poems and memoirs, and I'm waiting for delivery of an 1842 map that I came across on ebay). This collection brings together a vast number of extracts from over 300 travel writers from nearly every period of written history, from the Ancient Greeks Xenophon and Pytheas, to writers from the 1980s (the collection was published in 1985) such as Patrick Marnham and Colin Thubron. Predictably, the anthology includes only a handful of women travel writers (see my previous entry for more on this). However, it does at least incorporate a selection of multicultural voices, allowing for a diverse range of perspectives on different countries, such as a Russian naval officer's description of a Maori chief, a Macedonian general's observation of the customs of the "Ichthyopagi" on the Makran coast of Baluchistan, and a Chinese sailor's impressions of eighteenth-century London. The arrangement of the book according to the continent being written about aids this sense of shifting perspectives and also makes it a useful resource. There's also a nice section at the beginning called "Advice on Travelling" with interesting ideas on what to take and how to behave: Prince Hermann Puckler-Muskau, for example, advises "in Naples, treat the people brutally; in Rome, be natural; in Austria, don't talk politics; in France, give yourself no airs; in Germany, a great many; and in England, don't spit." (16). I'm certainly looking forward to reading this book more thoroughly as it seems as though it will hold many new discoveries.

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