onsdag 26. mars 2014

When curiosity was not an incentive for travel...

Lily Bart from The House of Mirth film adaptation.
20th century traveller - Lily Bart.

Modern day society’s guidebooks such as ‘The Lonely Planet’ and popular magazines like ‘Food and Travel’ demonstrates how today’s travellers explore other countries in order to engage with their culture. Yet, literature from the 19th and 20th century show that travel has not always been constructed around the curiosity to learn about what is out there. Throughout Edith Wharton’s novel House of Mirth (1905) she conveys how travel was most commonly practiced by the upper class in their pursuit of pleasure. As the main character, Lily Bart struggles to choose between a relationship based on mutual love in the middleclass or a loveless relationship in the upper-class she undertakes several journeys that eventually renders her alone in her own deathbed. Unlike travel narratives such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Improvisatore (1835) which pays great attention to the landscape and cultures the protagonist encounters, Wharton’s novel merely uses travel to demonstrate how 20th century genteel company utilized it as a way of seeking escape or luxury.  As Lily joins her friends on a cruise around the Mediterranean it appears to convey how Lily’s travels are restricted to reflecting her own personal tropes:  

The cruise itself charmed her as a romantic adventure. She was vaguely touched by names and scenes amid which she moved, and had listened to Ned Silverton reading Theocritus by moonlight, as the yacht rounded the Sicilian promontories, with a thrill of the nerves that confirmed her belief in her intellectual superiority. But the weeks in Cannes and Nice had really given her more pleasure. The gratification of being welcomed in high company (chapter 2.). 

This passage illustrates how the 20th century upper-class traveller was ‘vaguely touched’ by the new scenery and culture he/she encountered. As Lily states that it gives her a feeling of ‘intellectual superiority and ‘high company’’ it shows how she is not concerned with cultural engagement. Today’s travel environment however, does not seem preoccupied with travel as a representation of class distinction, but it is rather highly influenced by budget travellers, such as backpackers and their undying curiosity to learn about new cultures and their customs.  

Low budget backpackers. 
21st century traveller - hiking in Norway.
Work Cited:  

Whatron, E. The House of Mirth. U.S.A., Middleton Classics, 1905. 

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