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Sunday, 1 February 2004

Travel II (19th Century)

American Notes: Travelling with Dickens
By Richard Carreno

(Part II in a Series)
This traditional model isn't new, going back for more than 150 years. German writer Karl Baedeker pioneered the form in the 1840´s.

The literary travel memoir, a newer travelog model, has roots in the autobiographical sketches that were commonplace amongst 19th century Grand Tour Romantics. The form is now fully evolved with adherents such as novelist Paul Theroux and essayist Bill Bryson. Some of my favourites in this category are from another time: A.J. Liebling´s ''Chicago: The Second City'' (1952), E.B. White´s "Here´s New York'' (1949) , and any of the travel anthologies by S.J. Perelman.

In its original guise, many cultivated, urbane Europeans were eager to interpret the beguiling. mystifying folkways of the new Americans. The best-known example of this analysis is, of course, Alex De Tocqueville´s " De la Democratie en Amérique" (1835, 1840). Even earlier, in the 1820's, Washington Irving ventured an American version of the travel memoir with essays based on a visit to England. Unlike the works of the culturally-confident Europeans, Irving´s reporting was obsequious and fawning. Irving, said Henry Seidel Canby, saw himself as ''an American Marco Polo, bringing home the romance of the other countries, bearing their gifts of suavity, detachment, ease, and beauty to a raw country dependent upon its vulgar strength, stronger brains than in manners, yet not devoid in a craving for civility.''

It was this raw country that Charles Dickens visited, about 11 years after Tocqueville. For the most part, he didn't like what he saw.

(To be continued)

Richard Carreno is editor of Junto.