Friday, 29 July 2016

Friday Memes: 'Leading the Blind: A Century of Guide Book Travel' by Allan Sillitoe

After a couple of intense books I've decided it's time to pick up a less intense, hopefully, read. So I've gone for Leading the Blind by Allan Sillitoe, a collection of stories and excerpts from nineteenth-century travel guides. Hopefully it'll sustain me through the next few weeks of hard academic work in the university library by giving me glimpses at the crazy world out there and how we've tried to describe it in the last few centuries.

A journey into nineteenth-century travel guides to the UK, Europe, and Soviet Union as researched and written by one of England’s most distinguished authors.
In this quirky and illuminating social history, bestselling British author Alan Sillitoe culls fascinating details from Victorian-era guidebooks and travelogues in order to recount the pleasures, dangers, traps, and delights of travel in the century leading up to World War I. For instance, in Switzerland, an English officer once fell into a bears’ den and was “torn in pieces.” In Paris, the outdoor seating at cafés was in “unpleasant proximity to the gutters.” In Germany and the Rhine, the denominations marked on coins did not necessarily indicate their value. And in Northern Italy, a traveler could look forward to a paradise of citron and myrtle, palms and cyclamen.
For the armchair traveler journeying into a bygone era, Sillitoe begins with the essential practicalities relevant to any tourist: the price of passports and visas, how best to clear customs, and how many bags to pack. He includes timeless advice, such as: Board a boat on an empty stomach if you are prone to seasickness, and always break in your boots before embarking on a trip. Anachronistic recommendations abound as well: It is best to leave your servant at home, carry your milk with you when traveling to small Italian villages, and not pay children and “donkey women” for flowers.
From convalescent hotels in the South of France to malaria-ridden marshes between Rome and Naples, and from the chaos of Sicily and southern Italy to the dazzling bullfights and rampant thieves of sunny Spain, Sillitoe guides readers through the minutiae of the Mediterranean with wit and historical insight. Then he takes an anecdote-filled road east into Greece, Egypt, the Holy Lands, Turkey, and Russia. Of course, the Grand Tour would not be complete without a thorough account of his home turf of England, with her idiosyncratic hamlets, smoke-filled skies, and working-class townsfolk in high-buckled shoes.
At once a fascinating history of travel books from 1815 to 1914 and an entertaining ode to wanderlust, Leading the Blind brings to life the absurd and profound wonders of Victorian globetrotting. With simple but captivating prose, Sillitoe also shows how the way we view foreign lands can reveal a lot about what is happening at home.
Doesn't it sound good? I'm expecting hilarity and useful advice. Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gillion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice.

Book Beginnings:
From 'Officer Eaten by a Bear'
'In 1861, Baedeker's guidebook to Switzerland informs us that an English officer fell into the bears' den at Berne and was 'torn in pieces after a desperate struggle'. Like the eternal conundrums that have puzzled poets, such as who cleft the Devil's foot, what song the Sirens sang, and what secret was concealed by the Gordian knot,  was curious to solve this one, at least as far as knowing the man's name, but a letter to the mayor's officer at Berne querying his identity brought no response.' 1%
I like the direct and open style of writing, which is both hilarious and descriptive. Baedeker is a name I've come across a lot in novels from the 1800s, such as A Room with a View and even Jane Austen novels! I'm curious to see what it is that Sillitoe picks up from these to tell us.

Friday 56:
From 'Sunny Spain'
'We are seriously warned against falling ill in Spain, for whatever malady you have will be followed by another far worse should you fall into the hands of the native doctor.' 56%
Such trust in local medicine! I had a quick sneak through this particular story, and it looks like a really interesting collection of quotes about Spain. I think this bringing together of different guide books will be really interesting, just to show us what we concern ourselves with and how different a modern guidebook would be!

Does Leading the Blind sound like something you'd enjoy?


  1. Wow. This does sound like one that will entertain and fascinate! You've got my attention.

    My Friday 56 from Candidate For Murder

  2. This sounds like a fun story and a nice balance to more academic reading. My book this week is A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet. Happy reading!

  3. Oh my goodness - I didn't even know you will get a book like this. A book on guide books. Clever hey. Hope it gets you through the tough academic time ahead. Here's my Friday Meets:

  4. Interesting. I hope you enjoy it! Happy weekend!

  5. How delightful! Thanks for sharing and enjoy. Here's mine: “THE GIRL YOU LOST”

  6. This sounds interesting with a bit of a history and geography lesson in there. Enjoy!

  7. The beginning is intriguing but the 56 seriously made me laugh out loud! Here's my Friday meme

  8. Interesting idea for a book. It sounds a little like Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad.