Modernist Travel Writing: Intellectuals Abroad


As the study of travel writing has grown in recent years, scholars have largely ignored the literature of modernist writers. Modernist Travel Writing: Intellectuals Abroad, by David Farley, addresses this gap by examining the ways in which a number of writers employed the techniques and stylistic innovations of modernism in their travel narratives to variously engage the political, social, and cultural milieu of the years between the world wars.

Modernist Travel Writing argues ...

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As the study of travel writing has grown in recent years, scholars have largely ignored the literature of modernist writers. Modernist Travel Writing: Intellectuals Abroad, by David Farley, addresses this gap by examining the ways in which a number of writers employed the techniques and stylistic innovations of modernism in their travel narratives to variously engage the political, social, and cultural milieu of the years between the world wars.

Modernist Travel Writing argues that the travel book is a crucial genre for understanding the development of modernism in the years between the wars, despite the established view that travel writing during the interwar period was largely an escapist genre—one in which writers hearkened back to the realism of nineteenth-century literature in order to avoid interwar anxiety. Farley analyzes works that exist on the margins of modernism, generically and geographically, works that have yet to receive the critical attention they deserve, partly due to their classification as travel narratives and partly because of their complex modernist styles.

The book begins by examining the ways that travel and the emergent travel regulations in the wake of the First World War helped shape Ezra Pound’s Cantos. From there, it goes on to examine E. E. Cummings’s frustrated attempts to navigate the “unworld” of Soviet Russia in his book Eimi,Wyndham Lewis’s satiric journey through colonial Morocco in Filibusters in Barbary,and Rebecca West’s urgent efforts to make sense of the fractious Balkan states in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. These modernist writers traveled to countries that experienced most directly the tumult of revolution, the effects of empire, and the upheaval of war during the years between World War I and World War II. Farley’s study focuses on the question of what constitutes “evidence” for Pound, Lewis, Cummings, and West as they establish their authority as eyewitnesses, translate what they see for an audience back home, and attempt to make sense of a transformed and transforming modern world.

Modernist Travel Writing makes an original contribution to the study of literary modernism while taking a distinctive look at a unique subset within the growing field of travel writing studies. David Farley’s work will be of interest to students and teachers in both of these fields as well as to early-twentieth-century literary historians and general enthusiasts of modernist studies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This is an incisive study showing the instrumental role of traveling and travel writing in the late phase of modernism. Whether it is Wyndham Lewis in Morocco, Rebecca West in the Balkans, E. E. Cummings in [Soviet] Russia, or Ezra Pound in France—in each case, traveling was productive of an awareness and a formal repertoire germane to the writer’s respective literary project. David Farley’s book is part of an ongoing reassessment of modernism’s vital historical, cultural, and political contexts.”—Bernard Schweizer, author of Radicals on the Road: The Politics of English Travel Writing in the 1930s
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826219015
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2010
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David Farley is Assistant Professor in the Institute of Writing Studies at St. John’s University in New York.

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Modernist Travel Writing

By David G. Farley

University of Missouri Press

Copyright © 2010 The Curators of the University of Missouri
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8262-1901-5

Chapter One

"DAMN THE PARTITION!" Ezra Pound and Modern Travel

And at places where no frontiers could possibly be, in the middle of a square, or on a bridge linking the parts of a quay, men in uniform step forward and demand passports, minatory as figures projected into sleep by an uneasy conscience.

—Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

A little passport is my life.

—E. E. Oummings, Eimi

In the spring of 1912, Ezra pound embarked on a walking tour of southern France during which he visited more than a dozen towns and cities in the span of a few weeks. While traveling, he kept with him a journal in which he recorded what he called in another context the "luminous details" of his trip. This journal, scrawled in a series of notebooks and on more informal scraps of paper, was to form the basis of a prose work that would be a compendium of his firsthand experiences in the Midi, observations on the lives and works of the troubadours, and Pound's thoughts about the modern world. He intended to call this work Gironde, after a river that flows through Toulouse. Pound had traveled in part because he hoped that seeing the Provençal landscape firsthand would enable him to decode the trobar clus, or "closed poetry," of the troubadours, a verse form notable for its complex structure, involved sonorities, and obscure meanings. As Richard Sieburth, who transcribed and published the notebooks, points out, Pound's scholarly methods were, at the very least, unconventional, as they involved "shuttling back and forth between the realm of real topographical referents and the domain of written signifiers." Although the impetus for Pound's journey came from his reading of the troubadours, he didn't merely take their works as a Baedeker for the territory so much as allow the words on the page and the landscape laid out before him to feed off one another. What he saw and experienced on the road helped him solve some of the difficulties of the texts, just as what he read in the works of the French jongleurs helped him recognize what he was seeing on the road, so that neither book nor place held priority. This "shuttling back and forth," as Sieburth calls it, along with the projected Gironde, in which this shuttling would somehow be recorded, also revealed the uncertainty that Pound felt as to the path that his own literary career would take, whether it would be in poetry or prose that he could best contain the results of this method and portray the modern world.

Although Pound had come to Europe from America with great literary ambitions, it was not yet clear to him whether his true métier would be prose or poetry. In addition to several books of verse, he had published significant prose works, such as The Spirit of Romance, his 1910 study of the middle ages. In 1911, Pound showed his recently published book of poetry, Canzoni, to Ford Madox Ford (then Hueffer). Instead of the encouragement that he had hoped for, however, Pound described, whether fancifully or not, the sight of the editor of The English Review rolling on the floor in disgust over the antiquated and stilted language. Years later, Pound would recall this scene as an important moment for him: "that roll," he wrote affectionately on the occasion of Ford's death in 1939, "saved me at least two years, perhaps more."

Undaunted by Ford's critical exhibition, Pound sought out his advice a year later in 1912, after his walking tour in Southern France, this time regarding the proposed travel book. Ford's comments on this occasion, although harsh, were not as dismissive as his roll, nor were they without encouragement. In a letter to Dorothy Shakespear on September 14, 1912, Pound wrote: "I went over the first 80 pp. of 'Gironde' with Ford yesterday, he says its [sic] as bad as Stevenson and that is very violent for him, he is however pleased with the Ripostes—and his criticism of the prose is very helpful and the stuff is not precisely hopeless or past revising." After struggling further with the manuscript, however, Pound eventually gave up on the project, unable, it seems to yoke the "real topographical referents" to the "written signifiers." Disheartened, he wrote to Dorothy a week later, "I've hung about the 1st 1/3rd of 'Gironde' on my west wall as a sign that I'm dam'd if I bother much more with revising it." (161). He wrote of the manuscript one last time the following spring, in what seems to have been a final effort to revive his own flagging interest in the travel narrative: "I've got a damn rotten prose thing, neither fish nor feather, a walk in the troubadour country with notes on the troubadour lives etc. Awful hash. ... sort of muddle" (qtd. in Sieburth, xiii). The hybrid Gironde eventually sank without a trace into the recesses of Pound's mind, although the memory of unfettered travel that it conjured and the luminous details that it recorded would periodically offer up ideas and oddments for his later poetry. Pound seems to have decided that travel writing was an insufficient genre with which to express the modern world. While he continued to write both poetry and prose, from this time on Pound's main work would be his "poem including history," The Cantos. Travel would continue to have an impact on his poetry, although his subsequent travel experiences would not always be as picturesque as were the roads of southern France in 1912.

Only a few years after Pound's decision to abandon Gironde, the freedom to travel that he enjoyed in 1912 was curtailed as the result of the travel restrictions prompted by the exigencies of the First World War, such as the Passport Control Act of the United States, which required all citizens traveling abroad to have with them the necessary documents. After having traveled extensively without visas, passports, or other paperwork, Pound was understandably perplexed by these laws. After the war, when the government failed to repeal these measures, Pound's perplexity grew to outright frustration. His American passport proclaimed a nationality that he was eager to keep, but it also became for him the symptom of all that was wrong with the modern world, a world that was becoming overrun with bureaucracy and pointless regulations (see figure 1).

Pound's frustration over passport regulations during this time grew along with his frustrations over other bureaucratic and governmental matters that he similarly saw as obstructionist and wrongheaded, including obscenity statutes, copyright law, and postal censorship. Reference to these issues becomes more frequent in Pound's writings throughout the teens and the twenties, and his tone in regard to them became increasingly vituperative. Many critics have noted the prominence that these matters assumed for Pound as well as the peculiar way that they were linked in his mind. Robert Spoo calls the obscenity statutes, copyright law, and postal censorship a "trinity of legal forces that [Pound] believed was crippling the progress of literature and enlightenment in the United States" (634). To this trinity could well be added the legal force of passport regulations, whose effects more literally crippled the casual traveler. What these issues shared for Pound was their inhibition of the freedom of the artist and of the spread of the arts just at a moment, he felt, when the modern world was ripe for a renaissance. In his repeated denunciations of these matters, however, we can also see the outlines of Pound's more strident and fixed concentration on the larger political and economic issues that were to preoccupy him throughout his life.

As E. P. Walkiewicz and Hugh Witemeyer point out, Pound's interest in Social Credit and Italian Fascism was not entirely discontinuous with his earlier interests in, for example, the statutory matter of passports: "Underlying Pound's prescriptions on both cultural and economic issues is a vision of healthy, unobstructed circulation within and among national communities—circulation of ideas, publications, works of art, consumer goods, money, and people." Pound's early travels remained an important touchstone for this vision of "unobstructed circulation," even as his interests broadened beyond the boundaries of France and the middle ages. As a sign of this gradual elision from the strictly cultural to the broadly political, Walkiewicz and Witemeyer note one interest in particular that came to preoccupy Pound in the twenties, that of the diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union.

Residing as he did in Rapallo in the late twenties, Pound could observe firsthand the development of Mussolini's Italy, and he had direct access to Italian journals and periodicals. Through his contacts with numerous writers, artists, and politicians in America, Pound also felt that he had a fairly clear idea of the economic and political scene there. The Soviet Union, however, remained a closed book, and Pound was forced to rely on the testimony of others for his assessment of the political events that had been transpiring there since at least the 1917 Revolution, events which were being discussed at great length in the West. The accounts of those who had traveled there, especially those by John Reed, Lincoln Steffens, Senator Bronson Cutting, and E. E. Cummings, as I will show, were a crucial ingredient in his portrayal of the modern world in The Cantos. While the empirical method that Pound had privileged on the roads of southern France was important to The Cantos, equally important were the descriptions of foreign scenes by other travelers.

Pound felt that the modern renaissance he had been proclaiming since before the war could only occur if people had access to the monumental works of the past and were fully informed of the political events that were transpiring throughout Europe and America. For Pound, travel provided a more direct and vital contact to these literary works and to these present events than simple scholarship or mere reportage could. The Cantos were intended, in part, to foreground this double contact simultaneously, fusing firsthand observation with secondhand reporting—one reason perhaps for their notorious difficulty. Commenting on this difficulty, Guy Davenport, using Pound's own words, has described The Cantos as a periplum, "not as land looks on a map / but as sea bord seen by men sailing." This approach to The Cantos, which takes travel as a metaphorical voyage both through a unique literary tradition and through a modern world all but unrecognizable in the postwar years, helps make sense of this difficult poem, the terrain of which is still so foreign. However, although the metaphorical use of travel was important to Pound and can be of use to readers of The Cantos, few critics have examined the ways in which Pound's own travel experiences and the travel experiences of others both influenced his views on modern literature in general and helped shape his own work in particular.

Both kinds of travel—Pound's own and the travel of others—had an impact on his development as a writer, and both kinds of travel were to play important roles in Pound's forty-year epic. In what follows, I first describe in more detail Pound's early travels during which he began to formulate the distinctions between poetry and prose that were important to him as he was beginning his literary career, insisting on what he called the "diagnostic" properties of prose. I then show how Pound responded with increasing frustration to the travel restrictions of the First World War by obscurely encoding his own encounter with the "passport nuisance" in Canto 7. I also examine Pound's use of the travel accounts of other writers, especially Lincoln Steffens and his reports on the Russian Revolution at the end of Canto 16. While important to Pound, the travel genre was useful primarily as a source for economic and political realities but not as a way of containing and expressing the modern world. It would take the epic poem to order and contain this material. I then discuss Pound's subsequent interest in the diplomatic recognition of Russia, especially as he expressed it in his correspondence with Senator Bronson Cutting of New Mexico, who had traveled to Russia in 1930. This issue of the diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union and Pound's subsequent promotion of Cummings's Eimi paved the way in the thirties and forties for a reemphasis on Pound's part of the distinctions between poetry and prose. I examine this distinction both for what it says of Eimi and also by way of introducing my discussion of the modern travel books of Lewis and West. Throughout his career, from his early travels to his residence in Italy and eventual incarceration in St. Elizabeths hospital in Washington, D.C., the theme of travel and the conditions and possibilities of recognition between people and states pervaded Pound's conversation and writing. Perhaps one reason Pound remained so nostalgic for those early years before the war, on the roads of southern France, was that he was then so sure of what he was seeing.

"Damn Rotten Prose Thing": Pound's Early Travels and Gironde

Pound saw his identity through the dual prisms of the life of the artist, which he defined by a delight in travel and wanderlust, and the life of a European, which defined itself by its nationality and deep historical roots. Born in Hailey, Idaho, in 1885, he first traveled to Europe at the age of twelve in the company of his Aunt Frank in 1898. The two journeyed throughout the continent, seeing Cologne, Nuremberg, Paris, Lucerne, Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Venice, ending up in Tangiers in Northern Africa after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. Such a whirlwind tour must have been as arduous and exhausting as it was edifying, especially since Aunt Frank carried with her "an enormous quantity of assorted baggage" that the two lugged from point to point. Any ardor or exhaustion they felt on their journey, however, was surely due to the rigorous itinerary and to the amount of luggage they carried with them, not to any difficulties they had with obtaining the correct paperwork, since there was none to obtain. The travelers took for granted the ease with which they could cross borders and go where they wanted, not having to worry about visas or passports.

Pound acknowledged the importance of this early voyage many times. After his walking tour of Southern France in 1912, as he was learning more about the lives and work of the troubadours and discovering for himself the pleasures as well as the difficulties that must have attended their own travels, he wrote to Aunt Frank, "I have come to realize how much work those preliminary tours saved me" (Carpenter, 33). He remembered this 1898 trip again toward the end of his life, along with some touching, hitherto latent details when, in a postscript to the 1968 reissue of The Spirit of Romance, that prewar paean to the Middle Ages, he wrote:

A fellow named Smith put me on the road which led to the publication of this book—my first published prose work. He was a Philadelphia travel agent whom I had first seen as a boy, in 1898, when my great-aunt Frank had taken us on a grand tour of Europe.... Looking back, and considering, I feel it fitting that this new American reprint be dedicated: "to 'Smith' with thanks."

It is tempting to see Smith as a Tiresias who provides Pound with early guidance as he embarks on his journey; but what Pound remembers here is not the arcane instructions given to a would-be Odysseus but the simplicity of planning a trip, the ease of travel, and the connection between travel and literary work ("the road which led me to the publication of this book"). This memory further attests to the fact that from the beginning, Pound's literary career was closely linked to travel.

In 1909, Pound moved to London to establish himself on the literary scene, having found nothing in the American geographical or cultural landscape that could serve as the launching pad for an artistic career. He returned to the states briefly in 1910–1911, however, and from this trip gathered material for a series of essays that were published in 1912 and 1913 in The New Age. He had at one point planned on combining these essays, collectively known as "Patria Mia," along with Gironde, into what Sieburth calls a "diptych" that would juxtapose the Middle Ages and the modern world, Europe and America (Sieburth, xii). In "Patria Mia," Pound expresses his early enthusiasm for both travel and literature, addressing his native country like some poor relation to European greatness: "America, my country, is almost a continent and hardly yet a nation, for no nation can be considered historically as such until it has achieved within itself a city to which all roads lead, and from which there goes out an authority" (101). Pound's rappel â l'ordre, however, was prompted not by despair over what he saw but by optimism for America's future. Pound believed that the modern world was on the brink of a new renaissance, one in which artists and writers would lead the way to a transformed society by forging connections between the old world and the new. It was crucial to Pound in "Patria Mia" that the roads he envisions radiating from the metropolis should be accessed freely in order for this modern renaissance to be realized and for the arts to circulate and flourish.

Later in "Patria Mia," Pound describes in more detail the artist's role, again making a connection between travel and literature, but also seeing this role in relation to national interests: "Letters are a nation's foreign office. By the arts, and by them almost alone do nations gain for each other any understanding and intimate respect" (109). Such a project of mutual understanding, respect, and recognition was possible at this time because travel itself, although rigorous, was nonetheless free of bureaucratic interference. Pound, for instance, had traveled to America, then back to London, and was to begin his trip through southern France all within several months, never bothering to obtain travel documents. In Carpenter's words, Pound at this time "would travel about Europe with a minimum of premeditation and an absolute disregard for bother about tickets or currency, rarely troubling to supply his intimates with more than the barest details of his next address, if known" (154).

Pound delighted in the ease of travel again when, residing in London, he set out alone on the more ambitious walking tour of southern France previously mentioned that was to result in the abandoned Gironde. During this trip, Pound traveled with a Baedeker of southern France and a book on the troubadours, Justin Smith's The Troubadours at Home (1899), but otherwise was led only by his interests in their lives, poems, and the landscape. Decrying the passport system in a 1927 article in The Nation (where he misremembers the year of this journey as 1911), Pound recalls that the only paperwork he traveled with on this occasion was "an unstamped membership card to the Touring Club de France," which helped him "get into a small inn at Chalus when covered with twenty miles of mud."


Excerpted from Modernist Travel Writing by David G. Farley Copyright © 2010 by The Curators of the University of Missouri. Excerpted by permission of University of Missouri Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Modernism and Travel Writing between the Wars....................1
1. "Damn the Partition!": Ezra Pound and Modern Travel....................24
2. E. E. Cummings: Intourist in the Unworld....................55
3. Wyndham Lewis in Morocco: A Satiric Enterprise....................97
4. Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: The Quality of Visibility in Yugoslavia....................144
Conclusion: Aftermaths and Late Modernism....................193
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