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Radicals on the Road

Radicals on the Road: The Politics of English Travel Writing in the 1930s

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 216
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    Radicals on the Road
    Book Description:

    In the 1930s, the discourse of travel furthered widely divergent and conflicting ideologies-socialist, conservative, male chauvinist, and feminist-and the major travel writers of the time revealed as much in their texts. Evelyn Waugh was a declared conservative and fascist sympathizer; George Orwell was a dedicated socialist; Graham Greene wavered between his bourgeois instincts and his liberal left-wing sympathies; and Rebecca West maintained strong feminist and liberationist convictions.

    Bernard Schweizer explores both the intentional political rhetoric and the more oblique, almost unconscious subtexts of Waugh, Orwell, Greene, and West in his groundbreaking study of travel writing's political dimension. Radicals on the Road demonstrates how historically and culturally conditioned forms of anxiety were compounded by the psychological dynamics of the uncanny, and how, in order to dispel such anxieties and to demarcate their ideological terrains, 1930s travelers resorted to dualistic discourses.

    Yet any seemingly fixed dualism, particularly the opposition between the political left and the right, the dichotomy between home and abroad, or the rift between utopia and dystopia, was undermined by the rise of totalitarianism and by an increasing sense of global crisis-which was soon followed by political disillusionment. Therefore, argues Schweizer, traveling during the 1930s was more than just a means to engage the burning political questions of the day: traveling, and in turn travel writing, also registered the travelers' growing sense of futility and powerlessness in an especially turbulent world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2196-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-14)

    GOING ON A JOURNEY often involves fantasies of rebellion and renewal. Paul Hollander declares that “travel and revolution have something in common. Both are routine-shattering, seen as open-ended and leading to some, not fully definable, transformation of personal lives” (33). Georges Van den Abbeele argues similarly that “to call an existing order (whether epistemological, aesthetic, or political) into question by placing oneself ‘outside’ that order, by taking a ‘critical distance’ from it, is implicitly to invoke the metaphor of thought as travel” (xiii). According to such views, traveling means not only leaving one’s emotional tangles, old habits, and stale relationships...


      (pp. 17-36)

      FOR GEORGE ORWELL, both the act and the rhetorical figure of traveling were linked with the idea of social and political transformation. Because of his intense awareness of social differences, it was enough for him to migrate from one social class to the next to feel the kind of estrangement typically experienced by travelers to distant places. Orwell needed to go no further than to London’s East End or to the industrial north of England to feel a strong sense of bordercrossing or, as Valentine Cunningham put it, of “going over:” “No wonder ‘going over’ was contemplated by Orwell and...

      (pp. 37-60)

      EVELYN WAUGH was an exceptional figure among the 1930s travelers insofar as he produced more travel books than anybody else and because he endowed them with a harder core of rightist ideology than most other 1930s English travel writers. Unlike Orwell, Waugh did not face the task of reconciling his bourgeois sensibility with the tenets of radical thought; instead, he simply professed his straightforward conservatism. While his books about the Mediterranean and British Guiana (respectively,Labels, a Mediterranean Journal[1930] andNinety-two Days[1934]) are only implicitly political, his travel books about Africa (Remote People[1931] andWaugh in Abyssinia...

      (pp. 61-79)

      ANY ATTEMPT TO draw Graham Greene’s ideological pro-file is fraught with difficulties. Indeed, Greene’s ideology changed not only over the course of time but also depending on his spatial location. Before he joined the Independent Labour Party in 1933, he had supported both the Conservative Party and the communists for a while. During Britain’s general strike in 1926, Greene’s conservative instincts dominated his response to the crisis, and he did, in fact, serve as a special constable, helping to quell the labor unrest. From 1930 onward, Greene became a leftist liberal (though strongly anticommunist)¹ whose fiction showed unmistakable sympathies for...

      (pp. 80-100)

      REBECCA WEST burst on the scene of Britain’s political life in 1911 and she soon commanded a good deal of respect as a socialist feminist with an awesome rhetorical talent. Her polemical articles, written during the 1910s for theFreewomanand for the socialistClarion,called for the inclusion of all social classes in the fi ght for woman’s suffrage and pleaded for higher pay and better working conditions on behalf of the working classes.¹ There is, however, a critical consensus that West modified her youthful radicalism as she grew older.

      Janet Montefiore associates West’s political stance during the 1930s...


    • 5 THE TROUBLE WITH DUALISM: Sites and Issues
      (pp. 103-143)

      THE INHERENTLY dualistic construction of national and international politics in the 1930s comes to the fore in the survey “Authors Take Sides” (1937), which was published, with writers’ responses, in theLeft Review.The questionnaire, which was addressed “To the Writers and Poets of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales,” stated emphatically that “the equivocal attitude, the Ivory Tower, the paradoxical, the ironic, detachment, will no longer do,” and it proceeded to pose the following questions: “Are you for, or against, the legal Government and the people of Republican Spain? Are you for, or against, Franco and Fascism?” Such dualisms not...

    • 6 THE GEOGRAPHY OF FEAR: “Strange Effects of Space”
      (pp. 144-173)

      IN THE 1930s, as we have just seen, travelers returning from their journeys were often haunted by the impression that home looked deceptively like abroad. To Sara Suleri, all narratives of anxiety in the colonial context derive precisely from the “productive disordering of binary dichotomies” (4) such as self and other, home and abroad. Similarly, the travel literature of English intellectuals of the 1930s both registers and produces such a disordering of binaries, and as a result engenders powerful manifestations of anxiety. Concrete historical factors only strengthened these writers’ sense of apprehension. Valentine Cunningham, although allowing for a limited amount...

    (pp. 174-186)

    ALTHOUGH BRITISH travelers of the 1930s were ostensibly interested in political issues abroad, their observations and judgments were deeply anchored in the historical imperatives and dominant ideologies of their own society. For instance, the disjunction between Britain’s rightists and leftists during the 1930s is clearly reflected in Waugh’s and Orwell’s respective travel books. Evelyn Waugh’s travel writing spoke to the heart of those who yearned for authoritarian solutions to the specter of revolution, both at home and abroad. He shrewdly used his authority as a traveler to further conservative, imperialist, and racist arguments. By comparison, George Orwell’s travel books were...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 187-196)
    (pp. 197-204)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 205-216)