When the Going was Written

A feature length article by Jorge Martinez appears in the Buenos Aires newspaper La Prensa and is entitled “Auge y caida de la literatura de viajes” (“Rise and fall of travel writing”). Although the article is written in Spanish, most of the books discussed are written in English or French. After describing the writings of the 19th century, featuring those of Richard Burton and Mungo Park, Martinez comes to

the interwar period of the 20th century which was especially fruitful in travel literature. The adventurers already alternated with scientists and writers in search of subjects, and all orbited around the governments of the great imperial powers that disputed the dominion of the Arab lands and the Near East.

He begins with T E Lawrence, Gertrude Bell and Freya Stark then comes to the group that included Evelyn Waugh. These are described in this paragraph that includes a quote from Waugh:

The eve of the second world slaughter seemed an ideal moment for the literary journey. As always, travelers scorned the Europe that unknowingly marched again to death, and were dazzled by the strange and the exotic. “These were the years when Mr Peter Fleming went to the Gobi desert, Mr Graham Greene to the Liberian hinterland, Robert Byron… to the ruins of Persia. We turned our backs on civilization,” declared Evelyn Waugh in the preface to When the going was good (1946), a selection of the four travel books he wrote between 1929 and 1937.

Continuing in the paragraph quoted in the article, Waugh wrote:

..Instead we set off on our various stern roads; I to the Tropics and the Arctic, believing that barbarism was a dodo to be stalked with a pinch of salt. The route of Remote People was easy going; the Ninety-Two Days were more arduous.  We have most of us marched and made camp since then, gone hungry and thirsty, lived where pistols are flourished and fired. At that time it seemed an ordeal, an initiation to manhood.

Others mentioned by Martinez include Partick Leigh Fermor, who wrote after the war about his travels in the thirties, Somerset Maugham and Hilaire Belloc, all acquaintances of Waugh. Martinez concludes with a discussion about the later generation, who revived travel writing in the 1960s and ’70s: these include Bruce Chatwin, Jan Morris and Paul Theroux, who recently wrote about Southern America (Deep South). Martinez concludes: “Apparently, the last word is not said. Centuries pass, and traveling and storytelling (“viajar y contar”) remain synonymous.”

The translation is by Google with a few edits.

UPDATE (5 February 2018): A reader helpfully clarified the concluding sentence which has accordingly been modified.

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