- Borders and Travellers in Early Modern Europe
Travelers went seemingly everywhere in the early modern world, and modern literary scholars have pursued them, sometimes to distant climes. In recent years the vogue for travelers’ texts has appeared everywhere—in a journal (Studies in Travel Writing), in anthologies, in popular books, and in serious works of scholarship. Thomas Betteridge of Oxford Brookes University has assembled a collection of essays, which includes some of the most prominent scholars working in the field today, notably Andrew Hadfield, Claire Jowitt, and Neil Whitehead. Though it is unclear what has brought these essays together—there is no mention of a conference, for example—the result suggests how scholars of English and continental European literature are approaching the experiences of travelers and the idea of borders too.
Betteridge has organized the book into three sections—on borders, Europe, and travelers. It is a curious scheme, since it treats two concepts and a place, and to make it even more curious, it is the place that launched the travelers and where the travelers thought about borders. In my reading, the book broke into two halves, the first on the idea of borders, which encompasses the first two essays in the “Europe” section, and the second on travelers, which could include the last essay in the middle section. In any event, this is a minor point, but I make it to give a sense of the difficulty of prying apart a collection of essays in which the common themes are more significant than the differences that the organization might suggest.
The first five essays in the book treat the concept of borders. Readers looking for insights into the experience of travelers should be warned that some of these borders are not what one normally thinks about. Instead, the entries by Margaret Healy (on highways and hospitals) and Duncan Salkeld (on sexuality and prostitution in London) deal with internal borders that are essentially liminal. While it is true that internal laws and social mores marked some territories from others, it is hard to grasp how these fine essays fit into the larger collection. The reader is on firmer ground with Claire Jowitt’s superb essay on pirates and concepts of the empire from 1580 to 1640. Here she examines a variety of texts that suggest the role that some of England’s most notorious outlaws played. Pirates were, by definition, travelers, and they faced serious problems when it came to borders—including the problems presented if they decided to go home again. The gallows awaited them, as the laws of the 1530s dictated. Yet some saw themselves as serving the larger interests of the state, a term perhaps better suited than “empire” in this period.
Some of the essays focus on more recognizable borders. Mike Pincombe’s suggestive contribution about the Habsburg-Ottoman frontier brings the [End Page 735] reader out of the English context that dominated the early parts of the book. Unfortunately, the reader wishes that Pincombe had more confidence in his own work. “I am not an expert in sixteenth-century Hungarian literature,” he confides in a warning (“Caveat lector”) at the start of his piece. “I only hope that someone more qualified than I am to write such an essay will be provoked into writing something better” (73n). Rather than dwell on his doubts, the essay would be better off situated as a statement of the issue of translation in this period. That issue comes up more powerfully in Andrew Pettegree’s chapter on what he terms “the migration of texts” from one language to another. He chose to focus here on the various editions and translations of a chivalric narrative called the Amadis de Gaule. But the points he makes have far wider relevance. One wonders what he could have done if he had looked at another example—such as the explosion of European texts about the Western Hemisphere, all catalogued in the six-volume European Americana— in which one could look at the...