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7 - Beaten Track

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Sharon Ouditt
Affiliation:
Nottingham Trent University.
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Summary

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term ‘beaten’ as ‘struck or pressed by frequent feet; trodden; worn hard, bare or plain by repeated passage’, and notes that it is often to be found in figurative phrases, of which ‘beaten track’ or ‘path’ would be central to travel writing. The definition suggests that repetition, familiarity, imitation and, potentially, meaninglessness might arise from adhering to the beaten track. Travel writing criticism has played with these negatives often concluding that the travelled road is prized by the ignorant tourist rather than the sensitive traveller, but conversely suggesting that the tourist/traveller distinction is deceptive, or that in the fertile imagination the familiar can generate an original response.

James Buzard's The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature and the Ways to ‘Culture’ 1800–1918 (1993) provides the best starting point for a discussion of the term. Buzard sets up the (derogatory) grounds on which the tourist is pitted against the traveller: ‘The tourist is the dupe of fashion following blindly where authentic travellers have gone with open eyes and free spirits’ (1). Thence springs a number of associations: tourists are products of the leisure industry, easily herded, lacking judgement, eager to be told what to see and what to like. The beaten track, waymarked by travel companies, guide books, hotel chains and transport links, is where those tourists feel most secure and least challenged.

The Grand Tour of Europe, typically undertaken by the sons of aristocrats in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, laid down a track through France, Switzerland and Italy that was to be much followed. After the Napoleonic Wars and aided by Thomas Cook, Baedeker, Murray and their kind, nineteenth-century tourists sought social and cultural accreditation by embarking on journeys once available only to the elite. Guidebooks construed roads, steamer routes and railway lines through European towns and cities into manageable excursions, and helped to democratize travel by reducing fear of the unknown, of unanticipated expense and of lacking the language in which to appreciate art and architecture. There were travellers, though, who explicitly sought to remove themselves from the crowds of Cook's tourists in reaction to the vulgarizing, urban values that they seemed to represent. Robert Louis Stevenson's canoe trip in inland France and his travels with a donkey to the Cevennes provide examples of this from the later nineteenth century.

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Chapter
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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 19 - 21
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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