While on vacation in Rockland, Maine, English Professor Suzanne Flynn stepped into a local used book shop and came across an illustrated book, Victorians Abroad by John S. Goodall. The book depicts Victorians traveling around the world – from the streets of Paris to the pyramids of Egypt. Little did she know at the time, this book would serve as the inspiration for a new course incorporating travel narratives and technology, Eng 344: Victorians Abroad.
“I was intrigued by the idea of creating a course that looked at the phenomenon in the 19th century of the everyday, ordinary person traveling all over the world,” said Flynn. True globalization began in that time, she said, as the invention of the steam engine introduced travel by rail and ship, allowing the middle class to travel farther than they had before. Prior to this time, only the military, merchants, or wealthy individuals had the opportunity to travel abroad.
The course examines the travel writings (both fictional and non-fictional) of well-known and lesser-known writers and explorers - such as Isabella Lucy Bird, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Darwin, and Anna Leonowens - who ventured beyond their everyday surroundings.
“Before this class, I never associated Victorians with an intense urge to travel abroad,” said Ryan Bonner ’14, an English major. “Comparing each traveler’s writing upon visiting each location was fascinating. We saw the beginnings of a global perspective form in these travelers, and while their writing did not always align with our own contemporary understanding of the world, it was interesting to see similarities and differences.”