Perspectives on Africa in travel writing: representations of Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of Congo and South Africa, 1930–2000

Moffat, Rachel Heidi (2009) Perspectives on Africa in travel writing: representations of Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of Congo and South Africa, 1930–2000. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis establishes contexts for the interrogation of modern travel narratives about African countries. The nineteenth century saw significant advances in travel in Africa’s interior. For the first time much of Africa was revealed to a Western audience through the reports of explorers and other travellers. My thesis focuses on more recent representations of African countries, discussing changes in travel writing in the twentieth century, from 1930–2000. This thesis studies key twentieth-century representations of four African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, the Republic of Congo and South Africa. I interrogate Western constructions, with a specific focus on narratives by Evelyn Waugh, Wilfred Thesiger, Dervla Murphy and Redmond O’Hanlon. Narratives of South Africa by Laurens van der Post, Noni Jabavu and Dan Jacobson also provide important insights into African self-construction in travel writing, which is, as yet, an under-developed genre in African literature.

I begin by sketching a historical framework of the Western idea of Africa which, most recently, has been characterised by nineteenth-century interpretations of the Dark Continent. The process of decolonisation and the emergence of postcolonial discourses have challenged these constructions. An analysis of travel narratives from 1930–2000 reveals a variety of responses to the growing distaste for older, colonial attitudes. Increasingly, Western travellers seek both to create culturally relevant Africas and to subvert older Western creations.

Travel writers seek to re-present destinations, to examine and modify existing discourses. There are fewer texts of exploration, but many writers now travel in order to write, looking for new ways to re-imagine and, thereby, rediscover what is already known. Developments in modern thought influence writers’ self-representations, as well as their presentations of the Other. Twentieth-century women construct themselves according to new social constructions of femininity, no longer juxtaposing hardiness with more traditional feminine traits, but proving that their capability and endurance as travellers equals that of men. The traveller is always central to the narrative and so it is always important to interrogate the writer’s self-presentation. Trends in twentieth-century travel narratives reveal an increasingly personal focus; this can bring a unique quality to the account, but also raises questions of authenticity. Foregrounding the creative process of producing a travel narrative reveals the agendas which inform self-presentation.
This thesis points towards the potential for much further study on the continual process of re-presenting Africa but, also, the contextualisation of Western travel narratives continually points up the lack of African self-representation in travel writing. There has been little response from Africans to the long history of Western travellers imagining Africa; future dialogues with African texts of self-exploration and self-representation will, potentially, reveal new complexities, bringing greater depth and diversity to the discourses already in place.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Travel writing, Africa, twentieth century, postcolonialism, gender, cultural representation
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: McMillan, Ms. Dorothy
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Mrs Rachel Moffat
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-1639
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Mar 2010
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:44

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