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49 - Margins

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Zoë Kinsley
Affiliation:
Liverpool Hope University.
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Summary

The term ‘margin’ entered English in the late fourteenth century, with two main strands of meaning emerging almost simultaneously. The first is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as ‘[a] n edge, a border; that part of a surface which lies immediately within its boundary’ the second relates to the physical spaces of a book. Both meanings bring together notions of terrain and text, place and the penning of it, that are fundamental to travel writing.

As Cindy Patton (2005, 204) points out, ‘In most contemporary usages the idea of marginality combines the idea of a dominating force with a spatial metaphor: to be marginal is both to have less power and to be at some distance from the center of power’. That is not to say, however, that the margin can be thought of in straightforward terms as the edge of society. This is eloquently demonstrated by bell hooks (1990) who claims the margin as a ‘site of radical possibility’. Clarifying the message of earlier writings on the marginal position of black Americans, she says: ‘I was not speaking of a marginality one wishes to lose, to give up, or surrender as part of moving into the center, but rather as a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one's capacity to resist’ (341). The sense that the margin should be valued for its distance and difference from dominant ideologies, and as a location for potential transformation, is essential for consideration of marginal spaces in travel writing.

One of the earliest uses of ‘margin’, dating from the fifteenth century, invests it with the sense of ‘[t] he ground immediately adjacent to a river or body of water; a river bank, a shore’ (OED). Travellers’ journeys have long been directed along the lines of riverbanks and coasts, and in the Romantic period the seashore emerged as a symbolically charged site for self-knowledge (Corbin 1995 [1988], 169). The long historical appeal of the coastal circuit of Britain is in evidence from William Daniell and Richard Ayton's multivolume Voyage Round Great Britain (1814–25), through to Jonathan Raban's Coasting (1986). In these texts travel at the margin is representative of the anti-touristic impulse to journey ‘off the beaten track’ (Buzard 1993).

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Chapter
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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 142 - 144
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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