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  • Travel and Modernist Literature: Sacred and Ethical Journeys
  • Melisa Dinsman
Alexandra Peat. Travel and Modernist Literature: Sacred and Ethical Journeys. New York: Routledge, 2011. xi + 197 pp.

Alexandra Peat's Travel and Modernist Literature is a transnational study that redefines the meaning of pilgrimage in the modern era. Challenging the perception of modernist writings as inherently unspiritual and unethical, Peat suggests there is a "complex ethical relationship between journeying and spirituality in modernist literature" and that this theme is pervasive throughout modernism (3). Peat's study cleverly utilizes the four-fold model of pilgrimage put forth by E. Alan Morinis in Sacred Journeys (1992). These four forms of pilgrimage—initiatory, instrumental or acquisitive, wandering, and imaginary—are reimagined by Peat, as she examines modern forms of travel, such as tourism, quest, expatriation, and exile, as both physical and imaginary journeys with a spiritual foundation. Defining the modernist pilgrimage as a "cross-cultural flow of people and ideas around the world rather than as a journey from one fixed point to another," Peat discusses the modern writer's engagement with various ethical issues as made possible through the trope of the journey (17).

The study is divided into four chapters, which correspond with Morinis's pilgrimage model. Chapter 1, "Initiatory Pilgrimage," explores the female bildungsroman, where the journey to self-knowledge is connected to the physical journey. Peat explores this link through close readings of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, E. M. Forster's A Room of One's Own, and Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond. According to Peat, each of these novels conflates the sacred and touristic, thereby transforming pilgrimage for the modern era. The transcendence associated with the completion of traditional pilgrimage is missing in these three novels, suggesting that in the modern age pilgrimage is "ongoing, open-ended and constantly subject to revision" (25). Ultimately, these new open-ended pilgrimages challenge established binaries, such as home and abroad, East and West, past and present, allowing Peat to argue that "the experience of travel sets into motion an apparently boundless process of becoming" for the modern protagonist (57).

In chapter 2, "Acquisitive Pilgrimage," Peat analyzes a new group of texts, Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Passage to India and Henry James's The American and The Ambassadors, in order to suggest that in modernist fiction the initial goal of the pilgrimage is often renounced by the end of the journey. The protagonist experiences a transformation not only in his/her own pilgrimage goals but also in his/her engagement and understanding of foreign places and people. Peat argues that these novels "explore the ethical repercussions of the acquisitive model: they ask if getting something [End Page 810] always means taking it away from someone else" (60), claiming that acquisitive pilgrimage is positioned by Forster and James as a destructive method of engaging with a foreign culture and land. Although set up as quest adventures, Forster's and James's novels propose a new form of pilgrimage for the modernist age, one that enters into a "non-possessive" and "non-appropriative" association with the foreign other (61). The acquisitive journey then, according to Peat, becomes the "sacrificial journey" for both the protagonist, whose self-transformation is denied, and the reader, who is denied any sort of narrative resolution (66).

Peat turns to analyze the "Wandering Pilgrimage" in chapter 3 via the American expatriate novel, including Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, Claude McKay's Banjo, and W. E. B. Du Bois's Dark Princess. In this chapter, Peat explodes the dichotomy of home and abroad, suggesting that in the ex-pat novel, nation is conceived through the lens of the global. "Home" becomes connected to community rather than to geographical location. Travel is no longer understood as the movement between two points, but rather as a continuous pilgrimage that destabilizes national borders. Peat argues that "the expatriate experience can represent a kind of travel that is neither nostalgic nor escapist." Ultimately, the protagonists embrace a state of "in-betweenness" (102) where home and abroad blend together to form a "new transnational community...


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pp. 810-812
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