From August 4 through August 10, get the fantastic travelogues in our Restless Women Travelers series for just $2.99! Including Edith Wharton's A Motor-Flight Through France, Mary Wollstonecraft's Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Kira Salak's Four Corners: A Journey Into the Heart of Papua New Guinea, and Frances Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans.
As you gear up for Fourth of July celebrations, rediscover the United States through the eyes of foreign travel writers. From the frankly unimpressed to the instantly besotted, these authors turned their unique powers of perception on the land of the free and wrote remarkable books about what they found. Read on for excerpts of some our favorite travel writing about the U.S., both contemporary and classic.
Have you read any of these fascinating travel narratives? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
In 1832, three years before Alexis de Tocqueville published Democracy in America, the English novelist Frances Trollope released Domestic Manners of the Americans, an eye-opening record of her travels in the young republic. Expecting a Utopia of “justice and liberty for all,” she is shocked to discover the contradictions at the heart of the American character. Funny and fearless, Trollope’s biting critique became an international sensation. Yet, as Mark Twain remarked, "She was merely telling the truth and this indignant nation knew it.”
"I will not pretend to decide whether man is better or worse off for requiring refinement in the manners and customs of the society that surrounds him, and for being incapable of enjoyment without them; but in America that polish which removes the coarser and rougher parts of our nature is unknown and undreamed of."
Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville (1835, 1840)
In 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat and ambitious civil servant, made a nine-month journey throughout America. The result was Democracy in America, published in 1835, a monumental study of the strengths and weaknesses of the nation’s evolving politics and institutions. Tocqueville looked to the flourishing democratic system in America as a possible model for post-revolutionary France, believing that the egalitarian ideals it enshrined reflected the spirit of the age and even that they were the will of God.
"Many important observations suggest themselves upon the social condition of the Anglo-Americans, but there is one which takes precedence of all the rest. The social condition of the Americans is eminently democratic; this was its character at the foundation of the Colonies, and is still more strongly marked at the present day."
Although Chiang Yee trained as a chemist in Nanking, and served as governor of four districts under the Chinese Nationalist regime, he came to discover that painting, rather than politics and chemistry, was his true interest. In 1933 he left China for England and began writing and illustrating books on Chinese painting, calligraphy, poetry, and family life. He was also absorbing and analyzing his new surroundings, and during a holiday in England’s lake district he wrote and illustrated The Silent Traveller in Lakeland, the first of his Silent Traveller books.
“One’s birthplace is an accident, and life consists of a series of accidents which may turn out luckily or not. A single lucky accident can bring unexpected joy into one’s life; that is what San Francisco has done for me.”
From the sierras of New Mexico to the streets of New York and LA by night—”a sort of luminous, geometric, incandescent immensity”—Baudrillard mixes aperçus and observations with a wicked sense of fun to provide a unique insight into the country that dominates our world. In this new edition, leading cultural critic and novelist Geoff Dyer offers a thoughtful and perceptive take on the continued resonance of Baudrillard’s America.
"Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth."
In this lyrical, poetic, and charmingly funny book, Laurie Gough drives from Ontario to California reflecting on a life spent travelling in search of new experiences and familiar sensations. Heading towards a half-remembered cave on the Pacific coast where her younger, more adventurous self once stayed, she recalls adventures in Sumatra, the Yukon and many places in between—and wonders what compels her to keep moving through life while everyone else has found a place to belong.
“…California, the land of iced organic defatted decaf soy mochas at every small town street corner, T-shirts any day of the year, taco stands in the desert, orange trees on front lawns and avocado trees in the back; the land of redwoods and palms and palm readings down the road, mountains almost everywhere and a twelve-hundred-mile view of the sea. It’s the land of Tom Waits drinking tea in a backwoods café. I saw him once. He ordered the tea with his gravelly voice and when he got up to leave, he turned around to smile at me as if we were in one of his songs.”
Happy Fourth of July!
As we gear up for the summer months, travel seems to be on everyone’s mind. The Los Angeles Times recently posted a list of exciting road novels by female writers, and we were happy to see that A Motor-Flight Through France by Edith Wharton was prominently featured—just in time for our new edition of the book, introduced by Lavinia Spalding.
In our Restless Women Travelers series, we will celebrate and (re)introduce you to some of the most important travelogues written by women, from Frances Trollope’s colonial voyage to America, to the modern-day jungle treks of Kira Salak. Check out our list of upcoming titles to find the travel tale that will inspire you to be restless this summer!
Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring some fascinating works from around the world that we’ve read, re-read, or unearthed during the editorial process. Follow our journey right here on the Restless Blog, and join the conversation in the comments.
by Edith Wharton
Introduction by Lavinia Spalding
A trailblazer among American women at the turn of the century, Edith Wharton set out in the newly invented "motor-car" to explore the cities and countryside of France. As the Whartons embark on three separate journeys through the country in 1906 and 1907, accompanied first by Edith’s brother, Harry Jones, and then by Henry James, Edith is enamored by the freedom that this new form of transport has given her. With a keen eye for architecture and art, and the engrossing style that would later earn her a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, Wharton writes about places that she previously “yearned for from the windows of the train."
by Kira Salak
Four Corners is Kira Salak's riveting account of her epic, solo jungle trek across the remote Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea—often called the last frontier of adventure travel. Traveling by dugout canoe and on foot, confronting the dangers and wonders of a largely untouched world, she became the first woman to traverse this remote country and write about it. A New York Times Notable Travel Book, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea is a must-read for world travelers and adventurous spirits.
by Frances Trollope
Introduction by Sara Wheeler
In 1832, three years before Alexander de Tocqueville published Democracy in America, the English novelist Frances Trollope released Domestic Manners of the Americans, an eye-opening record of her travels in the young republic. Expecting a Utopia of “justice and liberty for all,” she is shocked to discover the contradictions at the heart of the American character. Funny and fearless, Trollope’s biting critique became an international sensation. Yet, as Mark Twain remarked, "She was merely telling the truth and this indignant nation knew it.”
by Mary Wollstonecraft
Introduction by Joanna Kavenna
The impetus behind Mary Wollstonecraft’s journey through Scandinavia couldn’t be more dramatic: Her relationship with her lover on rocky ground, Wollstonecraft sets out for Scandinavia in order to retrieve a stolen treasure ship for him. As she travels across the dramatic landscape, she writes vividly of the people she encounters, events she witnesses, and the sublime natural landscape. Yet the letters also reflect her anguish as she comes to realize that her love affair is fated to end. Letters Written from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark is an arresting travel book, a deeply personal memoir, and a provocative, philosophical exploration of identity and politics.