Top 10 imaginary journeys in literature
Growing up in South Africa, it seemed that most of the damp, spotted books available to me were published in Britain. They tended to be set either in gothic country houses or on the streets of London, and they left me with a very clear (if partial and fictitious) impression of the city. When I moved to Britain, I spent several days wandering around London and felt a strong sense of deja vu: a simultaneous recognition and alienation that comes from the converging of real and invented places.카지노사이트
Of course, literature has always been about imagined places: Odysseus struggles to return to an Ithaca that no longer exists; Dante travels through an allegorical landscape towards paradise. Shakespeare’s plays are set in Bohemia, Syracuse, Venice, or Rome – places he knew through books. Imagined places are, I suspect, always elaborations or distortions of familiar landscapes.
The current ease of travel means that many people can afford to cross seas and continents more casually than their ancestors could. This, together with the understandable notion that fiction should be experienced, or at least based on solid research, in order to be credible means that writers are likely to take their fictional journeys in the flesh.
But, whether from perversity or a lack of funds, I find myself drawn to more constrained ways of writing about places: to novelists who write into the void, who travel irresponsibly or recklessly, who fail to do their research, or who find one landscape collapsing into another.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
Stoker’s famous novel contains two acts of speculative travel. The first is his use of the dramatic landscape of the Scottish Highlands to stand in for an imagined Transylvania. The second takes place within Dracula’s castle, as Jonathan Harker discovers when he sees his host’s library with its vast collection of books “all relating to England and English life”. Although he has not managed fully to lose the “strange intonation” of his accent, the count has been reading himself into the London streets as a prelude to his reign of terror.
- À Rebours (Against the Grain) by JK Huysmans
For a more whimsical approach to armchair travel, I recommend the Decadent method. Bored of life and charmed by Dickens, the aristocratic Des Esseintes shuts up his life in the French countryside, acquires a Baedecker guide to London, and prepares to cross the Channel. In the process, he endures a downpour, drives through mud, consumes sherry in a cellar near off the Rue de Rivoli, and contemplates uncongenial English faces from across the room. By the time his train is ready to depart, Des Esseintes discovers that – having wandered “idly … through his imaginary London” – he no longer feels the need for travel.
- Dublinesque by Enrique Vilas-Matas
The temptation to travel goes slightly further in Vilas-Matas’s metafictional novel. Samuel Riba, a restlessly retired publisher who lives in Barcelona, imagines going to Dublin for Bloomsday to hold a funeral for the book. Although Riba cannot speak English, the idea of abandoning continental literary values in favour of “the English leap” becomes increasingly appealing.
- A Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
For Rachel Vinrace, the protagonist of Woolf’s first novel, the reality of South America is deadly. Having accompanied her aunt and uncle on the Euphrosyne to an unnamed South American country – with a cameo by Clarissa Dalloway en route – Rachel’s voyage is metaphorical as much as it is existential. When the English travellers arrive at their destination, the landscape of this South American country is generically tropical – hot afternoons, burning suns, lurking fevers – the sort of landscape you might cobble together from books. The subject is empire: Woolf imagines the “Elizabethan barques” which had anchored where the “Euphrosyne now floated”. The interior is full of “Indians with subtle poisons” and the coasts with “vengeful Spaniards and rapacious Portuguese”.
- A Way in the World by VS Naipaul
The colonial inheritance evoked by Woolf is picked up with ambivalent nuance by Naipaul, whose novel pursues the fortunes of several historical figures entangled with the history of Trinidad. Sir Walter Raleigh is imagined in his final months: a failure, a sick and grieving father, who knows the only thing awaiting him at home is the scaffold. Raleigh’s fraudulent quest for El Dorado – for which he would pay with his life – worked at first because it capitalised on the imaginary travel his Elizabethan readers were so hungry for.
- Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
In Calvino’s metafictional conceit, the Venetian traveller Marco Polo describes his travels to the emperor Khublai Khan, who is hungry to hear about the nature (and extent) of his vast territories. The emperor is soon on to Polo’s sleight-of-hand, however, and divines that each of the places he describes is the same. Or is it? The emperor’s mind “set out on its own, and after dismantling the city piece by piece, he reconstructed it in other ways”. Each of the cities bears a conspicuously female name (Hypatia, Chloe, Theodora), so although Calvino’s novel feels movingly experimental 50 years after its publication, the representation of territory as feminine – to be conquered, explored, possessed – may seem all too familiar.바카라사이트
- Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann
When Mann finished the first novel of his Joseph tetralogy, The Stories of Jacob, he had not yet been to the Middle East. As he wrote in his afterword of 1948, his visit of 1930 “served merely as on-the-spot verification of relevant studies in which I had immersed myself from a distance”. Novelisations of the Bible, in my experience, are rarely any good, but Mann’s novels offer a powerful and conflicted encounter with well-travelled myths. His freedom with the material, and his digressions on the nature of time and memory and human relationships, make the tetralogy worth the wrestle.
- The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
It’s the ledger rather than literature that transports the narrator of Pessoa’s fragmentary masterpiece, assistant bookkeeper Bernardo Soares, who has embarked on “the commercial epic of Vasques & Co”. By simply “entering the name of an unfamiliar cloth”, Soares observes, “the doors of the Indus and of Samarkand open up.” The imagined Indias he encounters through his account book shape a particular reality: orientalist, extravagant, consumable. Staying home has its dangers. But one reads Pessoa for its exquisite defamiliarisation of the familiar and for the vertiginous interiority of his pilgrimages-by-proxy.
- Inland by Gerald Murnane
Like Pessoa, the Australian writer Gerald Murnane has spent his life roving over the familiar. Inland begins with an act of translation: the narrator is a melancholic Hungarian landowner on the Great Alföld writing to and for a young woman who lives on the prairies of the American Midwest. (Murnane is the great poet of flatness.) By his own admission, Murnane has never left Australia – has never left the state of Victoria – and I found this act of fictional displacement exhilarating. One landscape is soon reassembled into another reality, however, and one starts to recognise the familiar in the foreign.
- Ohio State Murders by Adrienne Kennedy
Kennedy’s 1992 play, which recently debuted on Broadway, takes the form of a lecture delivered by an eminent writer, Suzanne Alexander, about the origin of violent imagery in her work. In her lecture, she returns to Ohio State University in 1949 – a time in which Black students were not thought capable of taking an English degree – where a young professor teaches her Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Constrained by the racial regulations of the campus town in which she lives, Suzanne seems to recognise in Hardy’s Wessex landscape an antidote to her curtailed freedoms. When she is expelled from the university for being pregnant, among the material used against her are the maps she has made “likening my stay here to that of Tess’s life at the Vale of Blackmoor”. Like Tess, Suzanne is an outsider whose sexual history puts her at a disadvantage. Like Tess, she loses a child. And as with Hardy’s protagonist, the sexual encounter which led to her pregnancy is murky, and its particular violence is left obscure until the play’s final revelations.온라인카지노