Return Passages


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Great American Travel Writing, 1780-1910

Larzer Ziff

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In this arresting book, Larzer Ziff traces the history of distinctively American travel writing through the stories of five great representatives. John Ledyard (1752–1789) sailed with Captain Cook, walked across the Russian empire, and attempted to find a transcontinental route across North America. John Lloyd Stephens (1805–1852), who today is recognized as the father of Maya archaeology, uncovered hundreds of ruins in two expeditions to the Yucatan and Central America, and he also was one of the first Americans to reach the Arabia Petrae. Bayard Taylor (1825–1878) invented travel writing as a profession. The only writer on Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan, he traveled also to Europe, Africa, India, and the Arctic Circle solely for the purpose of producing books about these journeys. Finally, in Mark Twain’s unabashed concentration on the haps and mishaps of the tourist and Henry James’s strikingly different cosmopolitan accounts of European sites and societies, travel writing conclusively emerged as great art.

Ziff explains the ways in which the American background of these writers informed their impressions of foreign scenes and shows how America served always as the final object of the critical scrutiny they brought to bear on other people and their lands.

Larzer Ziff is Caroline Donovan Research Professor of English at The Johns Hopkins University. Among his books are The American 1890s, Literary Democracy, and Writing in the New Nation, the last published by Yale University Press.

“This brilliant account of the changes in a century of American travel writing recovers three all but forgotten authors and re-sees two celebrated ones. It is at once a kind of adventure story, a study of changing literary sensibility, and a fresh look at nineteenth century cultural history by a learned and entertaining scholar.”—Daniel Aaron

“Ziff’s penetrating and detailed account of the different kinds of discourse that the genre of ‘travel writing’ can contain and on the widely differing ways in which American writers could use it to explore both their national and authorial identities is a pleasure to read.”—John Hollander

“Larzer Ziff has produced a work of major significance for students of travel literature, and of the American nineteenth century. Return Passages is an enlightening study of five American travel writers whose work, taken as an aggregate, constitutes the beginning and then the flourishing of an important tradition in American letters.”—Benjamin Goluboff, American Studies

Return Passages could well become that eighth wonder, the thoughtful academic book with a large lay popularity.”—James H. Bready, Baltimore Sun

“Ziff . . . analyzes five U.S. travel writers who were outstanding contributors to the genre in the period between the end of the Revolution and the outbreak of World War I. . . . For anyone interested in the history of travel.”—Booklist

“Though Return Passages is a scholarly work, it is, blessedly, a lively one, well written, intelligently argued, and occasionally quite funny.”—Bill Eichenberger, Columbus Dispatch

“A deeply intelligent, chin-in-hand rumination on the nature of American travel-writing. . . . Written in a velvety professional voice, these excellent vignettes of five exemplary travelers provide a steady pulse of context and critique, amply demonstrating how travel literature helped shape a national identity.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Ziff explores the progress of travel writing in America through the works of five great writers. . . . Through their works, wide-eyed Americans imagined a vast new nation and faraway lands and peoples they could only dream of.”—Library Journal

“A welcome contribution. . . . With subject matter as rich as these five fascinating authors, [John Ledyard, John Lloyd Stephens, Bayard Taylor, Mark Twain, and Henry James] Return Passages is itself unfailingly fascinating. While meeting most of the requirements of scholarly writing, it remains completely accessible to all general readers.”—Magill’s Literary Annual 2002

“Ziff’s account . . . is graceful and insightful and an excellent introduction to the travel genre.”—Anthony Brandt, National Geographic Adventure

“Ziff makes a major contribution to our understanding of American travel writing. . . . [A] shrewd and learned study.”—Nicholas Howe, New Republic

“Deeply learned and yet jargon-free, it offers such an engaging collection of facts and anecdotes that reading it seems somehow relaxing. . . . No work of criticism I’ve read in recent years has offered such a combination of instruction and delight.”—Michael Gorra, New York Times
ISBN: 9780300191554
Publication Date: October 1, 2012
320 pages, 6 x 9
21 b/w illus.