The decades between 1770 and 1840 are rich in exotic accounts of the ruin-strewn landscapes of Ethiopia, Egypt, India, and Mexico. Yet it is a field which has been neglected by scholars and which - unjustifiably - remains outside the literary canon. In this pioneering book, Nigel Leask studies the Romantic obsession with these 'antique lands', drawing generously on a wide range of eighteenth and nineteenth-century travel books, as well as on recent scholarship in
literature, history, geography, and anthropology. Viewing the texts primarily as literary works rather than 'transparent' adventure stories or documentary sources, he sets out to challenge the tendency in modern academic work to overemphasize the authoritative character of colonial discourse. Instead,
he addresses the relationship between narrative, aesthetics, and colonialism through the unstable discourse of antiquarianism, exploring the effects of problems of credit worthiness, and the nebulous epistemological claims of 'curiosity' (a leitmotif of the accounts studied here), on the contemporary status of travel writing.
Attentive to the often divergent idioms of elite and popular exoticism, Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing plots the transformation of the travelogue through the period, as the baroque particularism of curiosity was challenged by picturesque aesthetics, systematic 'geographical narrative', and the emergence of a 'transcendental self' axiomatic to Romantic culture. In so doing it offers an important reformulation of the relations between literature, aesthetics, and empire in the late
Enlightenment and Romantic periods.
`Review from hardback edition
... addresses the intersections between space and time more fully than any other recent book on Romantic travel ... Leask's detailed study contributes valuably to the body of criticism on Romantic travel literature and, more broadly, to criticism on Romantic conceptions of place and space.'
European Romantic Review
`Review from previous edition Wide-ranging and discriminating . . . Leask's book is refreshingly comparative, and boldly breaks new ground . . . He unsettles a number of orthodoxies which have cramped our understanding of what happened when Western Europeans travelled outside the boundaries of their own civilization.'
David Womersley, Times Literary Supplement
`Leask ranges more widely than any of his predecessors . . . Leask admirably rises to the challenge by widening his scrutiny beyond works composed in English . . . an admirable and original synthesis of much rarely explored travel material.
Studies in Travel Writing
Introduction: Practices and Narratives of Romantic Travel
1: Cycles of Accumulation, Curiosity, and Temporal Exchange
2: Curious Narratives and the Problem of Credit: James Bruce's 'Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile'
3: 'Young Menmon' and Romantic Egyptomania
4: Indian Travel Writing and the Imperial Picturesque
5: Domesticating Distance: Three Women Travel Writers in British India
6: Alexander von Humboldt and the Romantic Imagination of America
Conclusion: William Bullock's Mexico and the Reassertion of Popular Curiosity