Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
Curiosity is entangled with travel and travel writing in two ways, which reflect the double meaning of this term. On the one hand, travel writing can express curiosity, a mental or emotional state comprising ‘a strong desire to know or learn something’ (Pearsall 2002, 351). On the other, a curiosity is an idea or thing, which is deemed to be curious.
First, some travel writing can be seen as an expression of curiosity. Curiosity inspires some people to write travel books or articles and others to read them (Leask 2002; Stagl 1995). Of course, not all travellers – in life or literature – are curious about where they are going; many tourists are simply in search of a break from routine and a place to relax, and many migrants have more pressing concerns. But an important strand of travel and travel writing can be described as curiosity-driven. This literature takes a number of different forms. Curiosity-driven non-fiction travel writing draws upon – does not necessarily chronicle – travel experiences, which may reflect the curiosity of the author and/or that attributed to their audiences, which include the book-buying public. For example, Elizabeth Banks (1895, 4), an American journalist who visited London in the 1890s, claimed to have been ‘seized with a womanly curiosity’ to learn about the lives of different women. Some other non-fiction travel writers, identifying curiosity as their starting point, present themselves as more scholarly or scientific, their curiosity as more disciplined. Michael Bravo (1999, 162) traces ‘precision and curiosity in scientific travel’ of the early modern period (see also Naylor and Ryan 2010; Thomas 1994). In travel fiction, similarly, curiosity plays an important role. Jules Verne's fictional adventure story, Around the World in 80 Days (1872), depicts curiosity through its narrative and characters. Though the famous protagonist Phileas Fogg is decidedly incurious, interested only in train and steamer timetables and in getting back to London within 80 days, his servant and travelling companion, Jean Passepartout, is curious about everywhere he goes and everything he sees (Clout 2008; Phillips 1997).
In travel writing, as elsewhere, the term ‘curiosity’ also refers to things and other objects. Histories of travel and travel writing are closely related to those of collecting.