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Travel Writing Features

Updated: Jan 5, 2018


Travel novels are normally created to deliver new information or to criticize contemporary social issues, revoking readers to rethink their ideologies, social systems and even the self. In this essay, the crucial narrative and content features of travel writing will be discussed with Robinson Crusoe (Defoe) as the evidence.

The naïve empiricism and journal format of narrative that target on suggesting the credibility of the novel contrarily confirm its unreliability.

Travel writing are usually structured with convincing forms, such as journals, maps and naive empiricism. However, sometimes these information could evidence the untruthfulness of the narrative. In Robinson Crusoe, it is easy to discover that Daniel Defoe made full use of journal format, as shown in page 53, “The Journal” and the fact that the main incidences happening in Robinson’s daily life are listed with exact dates.


One interesting point worthwhile to be emphasized is that the narration of this novel concludes both the protagonist’s self-description of the journey and his own comments towards those events after a few years. It offers the reader with an objective illusion, but still challenges the credibility of this novel via detailed descriptions.


For instance, in the original book, “Here was also an infinite number of fowls of many kinds … but such as I knew not the names of, except those called penguins” (84). Nevertheless, Robinson mentions the island he lives in was located in tropical area, which could be proved by the phrase before his final shipwreck where the ship is at “about 11 degrees north latitude” (31). This geographical information indicates impossibility for penguins to appear and let alone inhabit.


Additionally, the narrator suggests he uses ink which he discovers from the crashed ship to record his life in that island. After that, in page 102, we acknowledge that “My ink, as I observed, had been gone for some time.” Without any tools, on the other hand, his story is contineously being recorded and written down. In this case, it is reasonable to be suspicious about the trustworthiness of Robinson's journal, which can be made up or created deliberately to mislead readers. Also, the naïve empiricism and journal format of narrative that target on suggesting the credibility of the novel contrarily confirm its unreliability.


One more noteworthy content in travel writing is about the context of protagonists. It was explained by Youngs that “the novel arose in response to and reflected particular social and economic conditions” (40). Leask also stated “the eighteen-century popularity of books of voyages and travels reflected the rise of European colonial expansion” (15). In this respect, most of the protagonists in British travel writing DURING..were from the middle class.


This could be supported by the historical conditions of the UK during that period. With the development of social economy and democracy, the royal class lost their superiority in society constantly. In the meantime, the middle class was trying to break through the boundary between classes. One of opportunities was to develop their financial ability with sailing as one of the most workable strategies to approach this achievement. Therefore, the middle class became suitable participants for travel writing.


In one sense, the family background could provide financial support for sailing. Even if travelers decided to give up traveling, their family could also welcome them home with a decent life, which was a relief for taking risks. In another sense, the young from a middle class family could seek more about breaking through traditional class relations whereas the old ones might prefer their offspring to be safe and to live a peaceful life. Hence, the middle class family represented the conflict between old and new cultures and ideologies, which could be compared to the competition between new noble and traditional aristocracy at that period. It also made this selection of main characters reasonable. These features can also be reflected by Robinson Crusoe. From the beginning of this story, Defoe provided readers with the information that “I was born...of a good family” (1) and also “the middle station, or what might be called the upper station of low life” “was the best state in the world” (2). Dissatisfied with his steady life and a fixed social position, the idea of traveling and earning fortunes encouraged Robinson to take risks and to challenge himself by dangerous challenges, which matched the regulation of travel novels.

#Travel #Narrative #Defoe #Socialcontext #Journal #Reliability

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