Creative Writing 102: In the Realm of Travel Writing - Immortalizing Stories in Nonfiction

FOREWORD


Creative Writing 102 articles are a continuation of the previous Creative Writing 101 series and serve as one of the academic courses in the field of Creative Writing Studies and Literary Theory. The course, which is a fundamental guide within the scope of general knowledge compared to the technical knowledge of Creative Writing Studies and Literary Theory, also addresses students and the general readership alike. With this goal in mind, the author has opted to write the article in very plain and basic English to convey just the necessary understanding of Creative Writing by making the article merely an introduction.


Creative Writing 102 is mainly divided into five chapters including:

  1. The Screenplay - Blending Screenwriting with Literary Theory

  2. In the Realm of Travel Writing - Immortalizing Stories in Nonfiction

  3. The Digitalization of Creative Writing Through Video Games

  4. Critical Theory - The (Im)possibility of Application

  5. Unraveling Creativity and Humor in Comedians' Personalities


[A selection of famous travel books to read]



" Creative nonfiction is now an international super genre encompassing memoirs, history, autobiography, biography, travel writing, nature writing, popular anthropology, film and music writing, popular philosophy, ethnic studies, journalism, writing on religion, literary studies, and more. " (David Morley, 2007).

Mapping new territories and discovering other cultures and civilizations has been the concern of most men for centuries, depicted in testimonies and autobiographical writings about travels, also known as the literature of travel. In the second article of the 102 series on Creative Writing, the focus is on travel writing, shedding light on how men and women travelers, belonging to different periods of time, immortalized their global expeditions through literary, epistolary, and other formats of stories.


Portraits of Men Travelers


After the Second World War (1939-1945), many travel writers went on expedition to various parts of the world in search of the exotic and the undiscovered. The British explorer Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003) was a significant figure among the explorers of the Eastern world. His interest in the “nomadic life” and desert life in “Arabia” encouraged him to immerse himself in the local Arab culture and learn the Arabic language. His famous books Arabian Sands (1959) and The Marsh Arabs (1964) are an account of his exploratory journey of the “marsh culture in Iraq” and his fascination with the Arab world.


" a remarkable throwback to the Victorian era, a fluent speaker of Arabic, a very brave man, who has twice crossed the Empty Quarter and, apart from a few weeks every year has passed his entire life among primitive peoples. " - Eric Newby. (Hulme, 2002, pp.88).


[Cover book of The Traveller’s Tree A Journey through the Caribbean Islands by Patrick Leigh Fermor]


Furthermore, Wilfred Thesiger’s remarkable literary contributions regarding the Arabian explorations are so influential that it urges the writer Eric Newby to mention the British explorer in his book A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958). Nonetheless, the lack of interest in the culture of the nomads is less common among travel writers of the post-war period. In other words, a few explorers are driven by the discovery of the Arab culture of the nomads and their books feature in the list of travel testimonies of their journeys in the Sahara. Books of travel writing and desert exploration, including Geoffrey Moorhouse’s The Fearful Void (1974), Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines (1988), and Robyn Davidson’s Desert Places (1996) reflect the Arab culture and offer the readership the opportunity to travel imaginatively and learn more about the traditional life of the Arab nomads.


Other parts of the Asian continent are explored by the British journalist Norman Lewis (1908-2003) in his books A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Indo-China (1951) and Golden Earth: Travels in Burma (1952). Cultural history and journalism are at the core of Norman Lewis’ Asian explorations. The need to explore and present the Asian culture and traditions to his readership are part of his exploratory mission in Asia. Not only did Lewis travel to some Asian regions, he also had the opportunity to explore other parts of the world and recounts his travels in Cuba, India, and Indonesia, respectively through his books Cuban Passage (1982), A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India (1991), and An Empire of the East: Travels in Indonesia (1993). The need to discover various parts of the world demonstrates Lewis’ willingness to immerse himself culturally in order to report the socio-cultural and political aspects of those countries in his narratives.


Peter Matthiessen (centre) with local guides on the journey to Shey Gompa [Photograph]


The Snow Leopard (1978) by the American traveler and writer Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014) is not just a “memoir”, but rather a “confessional book”, states Hulme (2002). It recounts the journey of an explorer in search of a rare species of mountain panther living in Asia, known as the snow leopard. His exploration of the Tibet region is a spiritual revelation that prompts him to question his life while making his journey of “pilgrimage” accompanied by the biologist George Schaller on his expedition to the Himalayas. Although the explorers fail to find any trace of the snow leopard in the region, their journey is enriching and life-changing. The deep connection with the natural landscapes triggers Peter Matthiessen to connect with his inner self and experience a “spiritual renewal” by recalling his wife's death.


Portraits of Women Travelers


Women travelers—"as wives, sisters, daughters of missionaries, diplomats or envoys, as scientists or naturalists, as explorers"—struggle to position themselves among men travelers, for the expeditions made in the colonialist era were all led by men. The colonization of unexplored and new territories by imperialist empires “were metaphorised as female, as virgin lands waiting to be penetrated, ploughed, and husbanded by male explorers”, explains Bassnett (2002). In this sense, women travelers differentiate themselves from men travelers as they seek other virtues by traveling and exploring new territories. One of the reasons behind their desire for traveling is a “sense of intellectual insecurity” that was triggered by modern European societies in rendering anthropology an area of study restricted to men. Hence, women are marginalized and left outside the sphere of knowledge and field of research.


A map showing Isabella travels in Colorado. Her route is indicated by a red dotted line [Illustration]


Despite the societal marginalization of women travelers, adventurous women strive to become known in this field among others who have traveled far from their countries. For instance, women's accounts of travel are found in the shape of “monographs” or “letters”, “diaries”, and “sketches”, aimed at sharing their journeys with the readership. Isabella Bird’s A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains (1879) is a series of letters addressed to her sister describing the author’s trip to the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. state of Colorado. Moreover, another significant figure among Victorian women travelers is the lepidopterist Margaret Fountaine, who is known for her passion for butterflies and moths. Her diaries written during various expeditions to Europe, India, Tibet, South Africa, America, Australia, and the West Indies are records of her study and collection of butterflies.


In the history of travel writing, women’s testimonies were given little importance compared to men’s writings. For instance, in Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars (1980) by Paul Fussell, no British women’s travel accounts are mentioned, claims Bassnett (2002). As a consequence, Virago, which is a prominent publishing house in favor of promoting women’s writings, decided to “reprint” important works written by women travelers, including Isabella Bird and Mary Kingsley. Meanwhile, studies of “Victorian women travellers” and a “number of anthologies” started to emerge, highlighting the adventurous experiences of these women around the world. Added to that, books including Dea Birkett’s Spinsters Abroad: Victorian Lady Explorers (1989), Leo Hamalian’s Ladies on the Loose: Women Travellers of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1981), and Mary Russell’s The Blessings of a Good, Thick Skirt (1988) are a perfect illustration of avant-garde women’s dreams and desires to conquer the world. The early 1970s is a symbolic time period which saw an increase of women travelers, such as Rosita Forbes, Freya Stark, Rebecca West, and Gertrude Bell, delineating their presence through their travel writings.


[Cover book of Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers by Jane Robinson]


“Travel writings by white women were positioned geographically, metaphorically and metaphysically between the dominant culture and the ‘wild zone’. […] In addition, there were differences between women in how they occupied these margins, which in turn produced significant variations in their texts.” - Cheryl McEwan. (Bassnett, 2002, pp.228).

At some point, women's travel writing is marked by variations at the level of writing style, explains Bassnett (2002). These “variations” are shown in how women write their “travel text” and this depends on their “social class”, “age”, and “religion”. In fact, not all women have the same objectives and inspirations. The women who had the opportunity to travel abroad were not only from a “middle class” background, nor did they have the same opinions and ideologies. Women travelers did go on exploratory journeys under the supervision of the “British Empire”, but were “unconsciously” used to serve a geopolitical agenda for the sake of the “colonial enterprise”, points out Bassnett (2002).


Dervla Murphy, in India, on the journey that led to her writing Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle (1965) [Photograph].


The late twentieth century is influenced by other social and economic concerns, involving international issues like ecology, “world poverty”, and “the future of the planet” discussed by the famous Irish woman traveler and cyclist Dervla Murphy. Her travel writing contributions, such as In Ethiopia with a Mule (1968), On a Shoestring to Coorg (1976), and Muddling Through in Madagascar (1991) are trustworthy records of her expeditions in these regions of the world to raise people’s awareness of the hard reality in these countries. In addition to that, her book The Ukimwi Road (1993) is about “her 3,000-mile journey on a bicycle from Kenya to Zimbabwe”, focusing on the health problems in the African continent, mostly suffering from “the AIDS epidemic in Central Africa”, describes Bassnett (2002).


The travel writer Sara Wheeler remembers her first trip to Antarctica, 1994 [Photograph]


Another prominent woman traveler, Sara Wheeler, worked on the gender relationship in multicultural scientific base stations in Antarctica. In her book Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica (1997), Wheeler exposes her feeling of discomfort in a polar environment ruled by men and reveals how hard she chafed at the multicultural and social constraints of her polar journey. Her travel journey emphasized another aspect in, what Hulme and Youngs (2002) refer to as, “polar writing”. Also, Hulme (2002) qualifies Wheeler’s travels as “epic”, since it took “two years’ planning”. For her trip to Antarctica, she had to get in touch “with several countries’ scientific Antarctic programmes”, not forgetting that flying to Antarctica could only be reached via other countries like New Zealand, England, and the Falkland Islands, explains Hulme (2002).


On the whole, it is true that in the history of traveling and travel writing, men have always played a leading role in mapping territories and telling their journeys from a male perspective. Although travel writings and testimonies have been primarily told by men, many women travelers have been interested in exploring remote places and immersing themselves in other cultures to satisfy personal and social needs. Thanks to their memoirs, diaries, letters, and other types of writings, women travelers have succeeded in demonstrating that traveling is not only a man’s domain, but it can also be shared from a female perspective, acknowledging and, thus, examining other socio-cultural and geopolitical facets of traveling and gender issues.


Image Sources


New York Review Books. (2010, December 10). [Cover book of The Traveller’s Tree A Journey through the Caribbean Islands by Patrick Leigh Fermor]. Nyrb.Com. https://www.nyrb.com/products/the-traveller-s-tree?variant=1094932673


OUP Oxford; Reissue edition. (2001, September 27). [Cover book of Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers by Jane Robinson]. Amazon.Com. https://www.amazon.com/Unsuitable-Ladies-Anthology-Women-Travellers-ebook/dp/B00JFY1OLQ


Road Affair. (2021, December 26). [A selection of famous travel books to read]. Roadaffair.Com. https://www.roadaffair.com/best-travel-books/


theguardian. (n.d.). Dervla Murphy, in India, on the journey that led to her writing Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle (1965) [Photograph]. Theguardian.com. https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/jan/24/dervla-murphy-travel-writer-interview-full-tilt


The National. (2019, September 27). Peter Matthiessen (centre) with local guides on the journey to Shey Gompa [Photograph]. Thenational.scot. https://www.thenational.scot/news/17930579.scot-lead-re-creation-famous-himalayan-snow-leopard-trek/


Watters, R. (n.d.). A map showing Isabella travels in Colorado. Her route is indicated by a red dotted line [Illustration]. Ronwatters.com. http://www.ronwatters.com/OLNotes7.html


Wheeler, S. (2016, February 6). The travel writer Sara Wheeler remembers her first trip to Antarctica, 1994 [Photograph]. Telegraph.co.uk. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/author-sara-wheeler-remembers-her-first-trip-to-the-south-pole/


References


Bassnett, S. (2002). Travel writing and gender. In P. Hulme & T. Youngs (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing (pp. 225–241). Cambridge University Press. https://unikore.it/phocadownload/userupload/a94996f62b/Cambridge-Companion-to-Travel-Writing.pdf


Hulme, P. (2002). Travelling to write (1940–2000). In P. Hulme & T. Youngs (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing (pp. 87–101). Cambridge University Press. https://unikore.it/phocadownload/userupload/a94996f62b/Cambridge-Companion-to-Travel-Writing.pdf


Hulme, P., & Youngs, T. (2002c). Introduction. In P. Hulme & T. Youngs (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing (pp. 1–13). Cambridge University Press. https://unikore.it/phocadownload/userupload/a94996f62b/Cambridge-Companion-to-Travel-Writing.pdf


Morley, D. (2007). Creative Nonfiction. In The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing (pp. 177-193). Cambridge University Press.


Additional Readings


britannica. (n.d.). Travel and epistolary literature. Britannica.Com. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/nonfictional-prose/Dialogues


Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (n.d.). Lepidopterist. In Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved January 29, 2022,

from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/lepidopterist?q=lepidopterist


Schramer, J. J. (n.d.). Travel Writing. Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/travel-writing


World Wildlife Fund (WWF). (n.d.). Snow Leopard. Worldwildlife.Org. Retrieved January 26, 2022,

from https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/snow-leopard

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Neyra Behi

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