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Journal - On Travel Writing & Travelers Pt1

Richard Francis Burton

Richard Francis Burton

Burton was thrown out of Oxford University and joined the army of the East India Company where his knowledge of local languages helped his work in surveying and in intelligence. In 1853, taking leave from the company, he undertook a 'Hajj' or pilgrimage to Mecca, in disguise, and his account of this trip made him famous.

Burton was a prolific author, mainly on travel and ethnography. He also translated classical and Renaissance literature, with a particular interest in eastern erotica - he translated and printed the 'Kama Sutra' (1883) and 'The Perfumed Garden' (1886). He also published a complete edition of the 'Arabian Nights' (1885 - 1888).

According to one count, Burton spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages. Burton also distinguished himself as a warrior, in the words of one biographer, he had fought in single combat more enemies than perhaps any other man of his time.”

Freya Stark

Freya Stark

Freya Stark was born in Paris, where her parents were studying art. Her mother, Flora, was an Italian of Polish/German descent; her father, Robert, an English painter from Devon.

Stark had no formal education as a child, but she moved about with her artist parents and learned French, German, and Italian before she entered the University of London in 1912. After working as a nurse in Italy during World War I, she returned to London to attend the School of Oriental Studies. In her first major book, The Valleys of the Assassins (1934), Stark established her style, combining practical travel tips with an entertaining commentary on the people, places, customs, and history of Persia (now Iran). In her lifetime she was famous for her experiences in the Middle East, her writing and her cartography. Freya Stark was not only one of the first Western women to travel through the Arabian deserts (Hadhramaut), she often travelled solo into areas where few Europeans, let alone women, had ever been.

Stark traveled extensively in the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, where she made her home.

During World War II she worked for the British Ministry of Information in Aden, Baghdad, and Cairo, where she founded the anti-Nazi Brotherhood of Freedom. She was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1972.

Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles

An American-born composer, translator, and author of novels and short stories. In 1947 he and his wife, writer Jane Bowles, settled in Tangier, Morocco, a city that became his most potent source of inspiration. There, he wrote his first novel, The Sheltering Sky (1949; film, 1990), a harsh tale of death, rape, and sexual obsession. It became a best-seller and made Bowles a leading figure in the city’s expatriate artistic community.

Bowles recorded Moroccan folk music for the U.S. Library of Congress, wrote travel essays, translated works from several European and Middle Eastern languages into English, and recorded and translated oral tales from Maghribi Arabic into English.

Peter Fleming

Peter Fleming

Fleming's first book, “Brazilian Adventure,” came about as a result of answering an ad in the Times of London inviting applicants to join a search party in the jungles of Brazil for three men who had disappeared. He went on the expedition but found that his companions had no taste for the wilds of the unexplored Matto Grosso. He and a friend pressed ahead but soon they too decided they were not quite intrepid enough and they returned to civilization — even before the other party. His book reflecting this was a successful parody of adventure stories, and effectively demolished the boastful type of travel books then being churned old.

Fleming traveled widely in the 1930's, in Asia and the Soviet Union and reported on his travels in “One's Company” and “News from Tartary.”

Wilfred Thesiger

Wilfred Thesiger

Thesiger—the son of Wilfred Gilbert Thesiger, the British consul general in Abyssinia (Ethiopia)—spent his early life hunting and riding in the countryside around Addis Ababa; he later attributed his lifelong preference for travel and the outdoors to these early experiences. The family left Addis Ababa for England at the end of Thesiger’s father’s term in 1919. Thesiger attended Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he excelled in boxing.

After leaving the Arabian Peninsula in 1950, Thesiger traveled to Iraq, where he spent the better part of seven years living among the inhabitants of the southern marshlands. He immersed himself in the Maʿdān tribe, becoming the first European to conduct detailed observation of day-to-day life in the marshes. While there Thesiger—who carried Western medicines with him and often treated local peoples’ ailments and injuries—became adept at performing circumcisions, a skill that was highly valued and which afforded him with opportunities to visit villages throughout the area. He estimated that he performed the procedure more than 6,000 times before leaving Iraq in 1958.

After Iraq Thesiger continued to travel, touring Iran and Afghanistan and serving in 1966 as an adviser to the royalist forces in the Yemeni civil war (1962–70). In 1980 he settled in Maralal, a small town in Kenya. The deaths of two of his Kenyan companions and his deteriorating health led to his return to England in 1994.

Henry Morton Stanley

Henry Morton Stanley

Henry Morton Stanley was born John Rowlands on 28 January 1841 in Denbigh, Wales. His parents were not married, and he was brought up in a workhouse. In 1859, he left for New Orleans. There he was befriended by a merchant, Henry Stanley, whose name he took. Stanley went on to serve on both sides in the American Civil War and then worked as a sailor and journalist.

In 1867, Stanley became special correspondent for the New York Herald. Two years later he was commissioned by the paper to go to Africa and search for Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, of whom little had been heard since 1866 when he had set off to search for the source of the Nile. Stanley reached Zanzibar in January 1871 and proceeded to Lake Tanganyika, Livingstone's last known location. There in November 1871 he found the sick explorer, greeting him with the famous words: 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?' Stanley's reports on his expedition made his name.

Norman Lewis

Norman Lewis

Norman Lewis once claimed to be the only person he knew who could walk into a room full of people, and leave it some time afterwards without anyone else realising that he had been there. That there was only limited truth in the assertion was unimportant; it says far more about his modesty that failing to attract attention was the only claim he pretended to.

Ever since he started on the extraordinary sequence of books announced by A Dragon Apparent in 1951, about his travels in French Indochina, the truth about Lewis's discreet personality was something he left others to decide.

He once stated that he preferred to produce "revealing little descriptions; I think of myself as the semi-invisible man".

Ryszard Kapuściński

Ryszard Kapuściński

Ryszard Kapuściński debuted as a poet at the age of 17 and has been a journalist, writer, and publicist. In 1964 he was appointed to the Polish Press Agency and began traveling around the developing world and reporting on wars, coups and revolutions in Asia, the Americas, and Europe; Kapuściński lived through twenty-seven revolutions and coups, was jailed forty times, and incredibly survived four death sentences.

Kapuściński was fascinated not only by exotic worlds and people, but also by books: he approached foreign countries first through the gate of literature, spending many months reading before each trip.