A BROAD! The word and the concept it represents still have the power to entice us, inspiring daydreams and fantasies -- to be up and away, leaving behind the routines and obligations of our ordinary lives. No matter that, as Paul Fussell reminds us, we are all tourists now, and that the great age of travel came to an end some 40 years ago with the outbreak of the Second World War. Neatly and ironically, and ideally for Fussell's purposes, the heyday of travel began in the aftermath of the First World War, about which he wrote with so much originality and force in The Great War and Modern Memory. The present book, which might serve as a code to its distinguished predecessor, looks back again and again to the first war to explain the peculiarities and excitements of the postwar reaction, not least among them the phenomena of travel and travel writing.
Fussell's declared subject is "Literary Traveling Between the Wars," but this hardly suggests the scintillating effect of a book that "aspires at once to the condition of literary criticism, social and cultural history, and autobiography," and pretty much achieves them all. I think I would, if pressed, except autobigoraphy -- for though there are occasional allusions to the author's own travels, they amount to very little, and we shall have to wait for some future book before Fussell discloses himself as the compleat traveler.
Meanwhile we make do with a dazzling array of writers who traveled and wrote about their travels. D.H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Norman Douglas, Evelyn Waugh and Robert Byron are singled out for individual chapters -- those on Lawrence and Waugh are especially impressive, and that on Byron, until now virtually forgotten, is an inspired act of resurrection. But this hardly suggests the breadth and variety of Fussell's enterprise: he has read, it seems, everyone, and manages to find a place for them all -- even his lists are fascinating to contemplate. And it is hard to imagine the case for travel writing, as a genre worthy of a place alongside poetry and the novel, being made more impressively.
Travel writing, so much a part of travel itself, goes back long before the 1920s and '30s to the great tradition of the genre in 19th-century Britain. We remember, from what Russell would call the age of exploration, that characteristic, indomitable figure, quite often female, who set off for Africa, the Middle East, the Himalayas, Lord knows where, endured impossible hardships and emerged comparatively unscathed to write a splendid book about the experience. That tradition of adventure was kept alive in the '20s and '30s by a figure such as Freya Stark, about whom Fussell chooses not to write -- he does not think her sufficiently, or primarily, an artist.
His judgment on Stark goes a long way to explaining the ground rules of his study. He is not so much interested in travelers who write, as in writers who travel, and the latter were everywhere in evidence between the wars: hence his belief that then was the great age of travel. Precisely because his subjects were writers of exceptional talent -- in Lawrence's case. of genius -- they brought back books of a quality that justify the high claims Fussell makes for them. He is, by the way, a deft hand with quotation --rather like a shrewd jeweler showing off his treasures. What he quotes from Waugh's Ninety-Two Days , for example, or Lawrence's Twilight in Italy, suggests they are worthy of a place with their authors' already acknowledged masterworks.
But quite apart from administering literary "shocks of recognition," Fussell has a further virtue as a social and cultural critic. He clearly brings out the relentlessly schizophrenic attitude of the British to "aboard." Nancy Mitford's eccentric but not typical father, Lofrd Redesdale, thought anroad was "bloody" -- even though, or perhaps because, his daughter Nancy lived in Paris, his daughter Jessica in California, his daughter Unity in Germany, and his daughter Pamela in Switzerland. For the British, "wogs bigin in Calais," but also, quoting from Louis MacNeice, "The Land of Cockayne begins across the Channel." Gerald Brenan and Robert Graves have spent their lives in Spain; Norman Douglas settled on Capri; Lawrence gave up the later years of his life to restless wandering, ever in search of the great good place, but knowing even as he arrived that each new place would ultimately disappoint him, and he would have to move on.
Perhaps Fussell does not sufficiently point out that exile from England was not unique to the '20s and '30s. Certainly since the mid 1.th century, the resident English have been a well-established feature in many a foreign town, English to the core but determined not to live at home. But Fussell is quite right that there was a new intensity in travel and travel writing in the period when the experience of the First World War was being assimilated into the spirit of the postwar age, frequently by those who were too young to have participated in it.
By subjecting travel writing to intelligent literary criticism, Fussell is able to demonstrate what an exciting and interesting form it is. In his chapter on themes, he points out correctly the importance of journeys and frontiers in the '30s, but surely he is being extravagant when he goes on to claim that since life itself a journey, then travel writing, being about both journeys and life, has a double richness. It is not necessary to claim too much to persuade us that the form has been unjustly neglected.
The strength of Aboard, and what may prove its most controversial aspect, is its emphasis not only on particular litery works, but on discerning themes and attitudes peculiar to the interwar years: the worship of the sun; the importance of anomalies; the need for a sense of norms in order to derive pleasure and value from the strangeness of foreign places. The home fires, so anticipated in the trenches, might keep burning after the war, but one fled from them. Home was hated; the ideal place was elsewhere.
The search for another place, away from the England one loved and hated, could not be continued when Armageddon threatened. The Spanish Civil War had already helped transform travelers into warriors. And with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, travelers were forced to return home. For the duration, at least, travel became a pleasure of the wandering imagination.
George Orwell was not really a travel writer, and is not a central figure for Fusell's study. Yet he ends Abroad with a splendid quotation from Homage to Catalonia , Orwell's deeply personal and political book about the Spanish Civil War. In the last paragraph of Homage , Orwell writes of "the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs." Fussell then writes his own last sentence: "The British did awake, but to a different world, one in which the idea of literary traveling must seem quaint and a book about it a kind of elegy." But the ideas in Abroad seem to me to be provocative rather than quaint, and the book in which they figure so high-spirited that it is better described as a celebration than an elegy. The spirit of travel, I suspect, will prove inextingushable: the space ship is waiting, the hotel is on Mars.