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Real and Imaginary Travels 16th-18th centuries

Anne Bandry-Scubbi
Rémi Vuillemin


Anne Bandry-Scubbi et Rémi Vuillemin

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1Flaunting the originality of the book he is supposedly writing on his tour of Europe, Tristram Shandy’s ambitions is that it will be “read by all travellers and travel-readers, till travelling is no more,—or which comes to the same point—till the world, finally, takes it into its head to stand still” (Sterne, 1765: 93-94). Interactions between motion and reflexion, the world and the word, the old and the new, the real and the imaginary in travels from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, with a focus on the English-speaking world, form the object of the present volume. Its geographical scope extends from the liminal spaces of Pontus Euxinus and the American West, to Africa, Asia, France, England, utopian isles and the self.

2To explore what Jean Viviès calls the tension between literality and literariness in travel narratives, nine scholars recently embarked on the journey of research, along with one experimented voyager, joined forces after convening from six different countries to the centre of Europe, in Strasbourg. Together, in two languages and after much fruitful interchange, they examine how the telling of travelling, be it literal or metaphorical, fashions identity through contact with the other. Generalising what Mary Louise Pratt writes about the Empire, the essays in this volume illustrate how confrontation with different cultures enables the travellers to “revise […] and transcend […] codifications of their reality” (Pratt, 2008: 4). The voyage is therefore best understood as a movement of deterritorialisation on the one hand and reterritorialisation on the other (Deleuze & Guattari). As the contributions demonstrate, the voyage can be the construction of new meaning or of a new reality, but it can also consist in the relocation of an existing reality in a new context, the projection of old values onto a new environment. In more than one instance, it also proves to participate in the establishment of a new norm, or to be a return to a previous—possibly imagined or fantasised—state. The relevance and implications of such to and from movements can only be understood in their historical contexts.

  • 1 See the forthcoming England and North-Eastern France: Religious Interaction from the Reformation to (...)
  • 2 Monica Matei-Chesnoiu is Professor of English literature at Ovidius University of Constanta and the (...)
  • 3 This ties in with former reflections led by SEARCH on “Reprise, Recycling and Recuperation” (Chardi (...)
  • 4 The OED cites William Cockin as the first user of the word in his 1780 Ode to Genius of Lakes in No (...)

3With the reign of Elizabeth I and the gradual resolution of religious conflicts consequent upon the English Reformation, the withdrawal and isolation of England slowly began to diminish as the country established frequent contacts with the Continent. Sixteenth-century Humanists, such as Thomas More, forged close bonds with such illustrious figures as Erasmus of Rotterdam, and Martin Bucer, who who left Alsace for England and helped to provide the theological foundations of the new Church.1 Economic and cultural exchanges between England and Europe’s great powers continued to intensify after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. It was perhaps from these instances that the Grand Tour was derived, a form of travel at once cultural and pleasurable which began to develop in the early 17th century and inspired many travelogues and reports, such as Thomas Coryate’s 1611 Crudities: hastily gobled up in five moneths travells in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia commonly called the Grisons country, Helvetia alias Switzerland, some part of high Germany and the Netherlands: newly digested in the hungry aire of Odcombe in the County of Somerset, and now dispersed to the nourishment of the travelling members of this kingdome. In the essay opening this volume, “The Other Ovid: Seventeenth-Century Itineraries of Make-Believe,” Monica Matei-Chesniou2-shows how these early modern European travellers recycle Ovid’s exile poetry and Metamorphoses to legitimize their own texts while challenging the values of their society and formulating new world views.3 This can be generalized to all travel-writing but the change in the nature of travelling after the French and American revolutions, when it became less exclusive (Black: 2003, 4), is manifest with the appearance of a new word and its quick generalisation by the end of the eighteenth century:A Traveller is now-a-days called a Tour-ist.”4 The volume focusses on travelling from the reign of Elizabeth I to this change.

4The effects of merging the imaginary and the real, at the heart of travel-writing, the ways in which readers, both further travellers and armchair travellers, are expected to learn from metaphorical and utopian journeys, as well the qualms about the legitimacy and identity of a specific sort of travellers, the merchants, are examined in the following contributions.

5Fashioning reality by the narration of travels is the first issue considered. Barbara Muller’s “Shakespeare’s Romances and ‘Figures of Transporte’” analyses how the spectators of Shakespeare’s late plays embark upon a series of extraordinary travels by being led to marvellous places. The playwright’s crafty use of metaphor, a “figure of transporte” according to Puttenham, opens their imaginations to new paradigms and presents them with new possibilities of identity. Resemantisation thereby becomes tantamount to a movement of deterritorialization that opens up new perspectives. Emma Pauncefort’s “Fashioning Englishness through the French Other: the 1719 English Edition of Misson’s 1698 Mémoires et observations faites par un voyageur en Angleterre” shows how the transformation or “morphing” of a French travel account to England by its English translator ties in with early eighteenth-century preoccupations with English identity, largely initiated by The Spectator. In a striking effect of mise en abyme, the travel account is itself subjected to a process of estrangement and is ascribed new meaning and relevance. Collective identity defined by travelling gives way to the representation of idiosyncrasy, interrogated by Heidi Liedke in “‘and now is the time I want it’: Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Read as Romantic Ramble versus Ego Trip.” Yorick as spectator, she contends by pushing Virginia Woolf’s view on Sterne’s work further, taints his observations with “the dark note of egotism” and ends up prioritising the performance of his own freedom over conveying literary and documentary relevance to his travels.

6The learning process inherent in travelling then becomes the object of study, education being the underlying purpose of the three journeys examined: an intimate one, another to utopian lands and the third a work of the imagination whose background blends utopian project and actual expedition. Émilie Jehl envisages this by focussing on interiority with “The Heart’s Travelling Back in The School of the Heart (1647).” As an itinerary to and of the inner self, Harvey’s book of emblems guides its readers along a spiritual pilgrimage: navigating by text and image, their hearts should progress to self-discovery. The return to God is akin to a process of reminiscence, through which one finds what one did not know one knew—a process that might be seen today as agnition, although it takes the form of a recovery of prelapsarian knowledge through discovery and reformation of the soul in the Christian context. The other two essays in this section link education and utopia. “Critique et légitimation du voyage dans les utopies narratives de Platon à Veiras” by Angélique Pérès explores how, in The Republic, Utopia, The New Atlantis and L’Histoire des Sévarambes, the travellers are purveyors of knowledge, both individual and collective—which implies the necessity of coming back from the journey. The voyage is of interest in so far as it has a potentially transformative effect that will improve both the traveller and the community from which he/she originates. In “La Tempête de Shakespeare, écho d’un naufrage dans l’archipel des Bermudes” Vincent Grégoire reads the play as a turning point between the conception of colonization as the utopian project of a new Commonwealth and disillusion about its real nature. He links this to Shakespeare’s incorporation of the ideological and political issues at stake in the Bermuda episode of the 1609 Chesapeake expedition. The deterritorialisation implied by utopia gives way to a more Machiavellian and Tacitean project that ultimately dehumanizes the other. At best, this leads to Prospero’s “discriminating humanism,” not incompatible with trade colonialism.

7Trade is the focus of the last three contributions. This brings to the fore the element of risk involved in travelling, which, to some extent, legitimates the figures of the merchant and the explorer. The former is particularly examined by Anne-Kathrin Marquardt in “‘Bearing the Adventure of the Seas’: Seafaring and the Figure of the Merchant in the Early Modern Imagination.” Using The Merchant of Venice and seventeenth-century writings on economics, she contrasts the merchant with the moneylender in the Protestant context of Northern Europe. Nora Pleßke teases out the ambiguities of the two figures with “‘New Sources of Wealth and New Channels of Commerce’: the Economic Dimensions of Mungo Park’s Travels in the Interior of Africa (1799),” while inquiring into the reasons for the important influence of this text on further explorations of and writings about colonial empires. Her essay suggests that travel may simultaneously be mind-opening, by stimulating intercultural exchange, and entail a displacement of power, the imposition of colonial hegemony upon foreign lands. Commercial and cultural exchanges also intertwine in writings by American merchants visiting Europe at the same period: in transforming their literal travel accounts into literary texts, the merchants generate narratives of national identity which take significance in contrast to the European other. This process of national self-definition in opposition to a predefined other, which Maud Gallet-Guillon analyses in “Du voyage à sa représentation: Les témoignages de deux marchands Nord-Américains en Europe (1779-1795),”—is not unlike the grafting of new world-views onto Ovid by Renaissance writers.

8“The figure of ‘the other’ in [travel-writings], be it narrator, character or traveller, projects back to us the refracted image of an unsuspected aspect of ourselves” (Viviès, 2002: 112). Whether fashioning individual or collective identity by refraction, whether “read by […] travellers [or] travel-readers,” whether based on real or imaginary journeys, the texts examined in this volume problematize and uncover what might lie behind the hybridization recommended to the traveller by Bacon: “he shall suck the experience of many [… but] only prick in some flowers, of that he hath learned abroad, into the customs of his own country.”



BACON F. (1652 [1625]): “Of Travel” in Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed.

CHARDIN, J.-J. (2010): Culture savante–culture populaire: reprises, recyclages, récupération, RANAM 43.
CHARDIN, J.-J. (2012a):
The Déjà-Vu and the Authentic: Reprise, Recycling, Recuperating in Anglophone Literature and Culture, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
CHARDIN, J.-J. (2012b):
Reprise, Recycling, Recuperating: Modes of Construction of Anglophone Culture, RANAM 45.

DELEUZE G. & GUATTARI F. (1972): Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

PEGGE Samuel (1803): Anecdotes of the English language; chiefly regarding the local dialect of London and its environs; whence it will appear that the natives of the metropolis and its vicinities have not corrupted the language of their ancestors. In a letter from Samuel Pegge… to an old acquaintance, and co-fellow of the Society of antiquaries, London, Printed by J. Nichols and son, for F. and C. Rivington, T. Payne, and J. White.

PRATT M. L. (2008 [1992]): Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 2d ed., London, Routledge.

STERNE, L. (1765): The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Volume VII. London: Becket and De Hondt.

VIVIÈS, J. (2002): English Travel Narratives in the Eighteenth Century: Exploring Genre, Burlington, Ashgate.


1 See the forthcoming England and North-Eastern France: Religious Interaction from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, also resulting from the project “Interchanges between England and the East of France from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment/Regards croisés entre l’Angleterre et le Grand-Est de la France de la Renaissance aux Lumières,” funded by Conseil scientifique de l’Université de Strasbourg and conducted by Anne Bandry-Scubbi & Jean-Jacques Chardin.

2 Monica Matei-Chesnoiu is Professor of English literature at Ovidius University of Constanta and the director of the project Shakespeare in Romania. She is the author of Shakespeare in the Romanian Cultural Memory (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006), Early Modern Drama and the Eastern European Elsewhere: Representations of Liminal Locality in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009), and Re-imagining Western European Geography in English Renaissance Drama (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). She is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Fellowship (1999), a Humboldt Fellowship (2009), and SCIEX Fellowship during which she was based in Basel (2014). Monica Matei-Chesnoiu is a member of the International Committee of Correspondents for the World Shakespeare Bibliography. Currently she is working on a book project discussing representations of space in early modern European geography and English drama, forthcoming at Palgrave Macmillan (2014) in the series Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies.

3 This ties in with former reflections led by SEARCH on “Reprise, Recycling and Recuperation” (Chardin 2010, 2012a, 2012b).

4 The OED cites William Cockin as the first user of the word in his 1780 Ode to Genius of Lakes in North of England and gives Pegge as the second.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2015

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