Victorian voyages

<strong>A Corkscrew Is Most Useful</strong>

Nicholas Murray <em>Little, Brown, 544p, £25</em>

Nicholas Murray describes and reflects on the experiences of an impressively wide range of Victorian travel writers, focusing on the ways in which they presented their travels to the public. As well as providing brief accounts of some of the best-known voyages of the 19th century – including Dr Livingstone’s travels in Africa, Richard Burton in the Middle East, and Darwin on the Beagle – Murray invites the reader to take pleasure in the century’s more outré excursions.

Annie Boyle Hore, for example, who published To Lake Tanganyika in a Bath Chair in 1886, tested a range of barmy modes of transit before deciding that, “of all the means of conveyance I have tried, the bath chair was by far the most comfortable, except when in motion”. The travails of her long-suffering bearers – as well as the broader issue of the slave trade – began to play on her mind. As for so many travellers, the journey to the heart of darkness was fundamentally a journey of moral discovery.

While there is plenty of interesting material, the breadth of the book’s coverage is its downfall. Murray’s 50 chapters are committed to supplying the necessary cultural background to their subjects, and in consequence there is little room for much else.

Matthew Taunton is a Leverhulme Fellow in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA, and is currently working on a book about the cultural resonances of the Russian Revolution in Britain.

This article first appeared in the 12 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, 1968 The year that changed everything