R.I.P. Paul Fussell, Scholar, Travel Writing Critic
Travel Blog • Jim Benning • 05.24.12 | 11:21 AM ET
The Pasadena-born scholar, who died yesterday at the age of 88, wrote more than 20 books on a wide range of topics, including war and class. He’s revered in travel-writing circles for his 1980 book, Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars. It seems a rather obscure topic for a book that would spur debate among travelers and writers for decades, but Fussell was an opinionated critic who took aim at modern tourism and its effect on travel writing.
World Hum contributor Tom Swick reflected on the book and its influence today:
It was like a course no college ever taught—British Travel Writing 101, my first introduction to a distance university. The scholarship was rugged, eclectic and sweeping; the writing authoritative, engaging and witty. With chapters titled “L’Amour de Voyage” and “The New Heliophily,” the book reinforced the image of travel writing as a romantic endeavor, but it also championed it as an art. Here, it said, is an overlooked genre that has been practiced by some of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Here is a literature worthy of academic regard.
The second of these ideas turned out to be the more prophetic. Travel writing continues—despite Fussell’s assertion that tourism killed it—but without the participation of the day’s great novelists. At the same time, academic papers and conferences on travel writing keep proliferating. It is ironic that the book that announced the death of travel writing gave birth to the field of travel writing scholarship.
Of modern tourism, Fussell wrote: “Tourism soothes you by comfort and familiarity and shields you from the shocks of novelty and oddity. It confirms your prior view of the world instead of shaking it up. Tourism required that you see conventional things, and that you see them in a conventional way. Tourism can operate profitably only as a device of mass merchandizing, fulfilling the great modern rule of mediocrity and uniformity.”
Fussell has been cited on World Hum a number of times over the years. A few highlights:
- Non-Places and the End of Travel by Frank Bures
- The Trouble with ‘Smile When You’re Lying’ by Rolf Potts
- Not a Tourist by Tom Swick
- No Place Exists That’s not Worth Writing About by Tom Swick
- China: Not a ‘Psuedo-Place’ by Eva Holland
- ‘Fussel Was Right. We Are All Tourists’