When Sybil Hall Nowell set off from San Francisco one February morning in 1935 on a round-the-world trip with her husband Jack, the energetic American couple fell into the embrace of the British Empire with great gusto. As they traveled through Australia and New Zealand and then through Africa up to Britain they delighted in the formality, civility, and good manners that defined at least the surface of the British imperial experience. During their four-month voyage, Sybil Nowell studiously wrote letters home at every stop, describing this calm and orderly world. Sybil Nowell's letters, introduced and edited here by Robert N. White (her grandson) who has provided useful historical and political commentary, portray the easy complacency of Empire that came with power, privilege, and prestige.
Early in 1935, at the ages of 62 and 63 respectively, Sybil and Jack Nowell set off from their San Franciscan home on a carefully-planned trip-of-a-lifetime: to the Pacific islands, New Zealand, Australia, Africa and, by way of France, England. During the whole of their trip Sybil kept up a flow of letters to her family, describing their 'adventures'. These were private letters, not then intended for publication; there was no attempt to make them either literary or in the widest sense informative about the countries they visited. There are few expressions of opinion - even fewer comments on the insecure state of the world or politics of the countries they passed through. In fact Robert White - their editor and grandson - though generally affectionate and admiring of their intrepidity - finally becomes exasperated by their lack of awareness of either historical or imminent trouble. As they travelled up through Africa he fulminates: 'Nowhere do I find my good grandmother's reticence about politics more trying than here. What did they talk aobut at dinner, and over their sun-downers?' What, indeed! But this was, after all, just a holiday trip; these letters were for private family reading and we should read them in the spirit in which they were written - to share with the Nowell's children and grandchildren the new sights, sounds, scents and encounters in foreign places which the Nowells themselves must never have forgotten. They were, admittedly, cocooned in expensive luxury: five-star hotel suites, first-class railway compartments, chauffeur-driven cars. That was what they wanted, what they paid for. They did not set out to right wrongs - or issue dire warnings. And though one might feel some surprise and disapproval at the lack of national and international awareness, seeing it all through their eyes after 65 years is in its way enlightening, and often entertaining. (Kirkus UK)