Anxious Journeys: Past, Present, and Construction of Identity in American Travel Writing

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Travel writing ostensibly narrates leisurely excursions through memorable landscapes and records the adventures associated with discovering new scenes. The journey presumably provides an escape from the burdens of daily life, and the ideal traveler embraces the differences between home and another place. Yet, the path can sometimes lead to distressing scenes, where travelers struggle to situate themselves in strange and unfamiliar places. Americans, in particular, often demonstrate anxiety about what sites they should visit and how such scenes should be interpreted. The differences between their ideas about these spaces and the reality can also foment anguish. More, American travelers seem to believe that personal and national identities are tenuous, and they often take steps to preserve their sense of self when they feel threatened by uncanny sights and scenes. Thus, their travel narratives reveal a distinct struggle with what is here identified as the anxiety of travel. This dissertation identifies its triggers, analyzes its symptoms, and examines how it operates in American-authored narratives of travel.

While most critics divide these journeys into two groups (home and abroad), this dissertation considers tension in both domestic and transatlantic tours. This broader approach provides a more thorough understanding of the travel writing genre, offers more information on how this anxiety functions, and helps us to formulate a more specific theory about the roles of anxiety and travel in identity construction. It also invites a reassessment of destination and what constitutes a site, and makes it easier to recognize disguised anxiety. The first chapter examines Willa Cather's articles from her 1902 journey to England and France, and is especially concerned with Cather's anxiety over history, culture, other women, and the prospect of interpreting travel itself. The second chapter explores Theodore Dreiser's A Hoosier Holiday as a dual text that reveals both Dreiser's impressions of 1915 America and his nostalgic desire to recover his lost boyhood. The third chapter analyzes Henry James's subject position as a tourist in The American Scene, tracks his touristic gaze, and studies his approach to tourism, both in Europe and in his natal land.