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William beckford: Travel writer, travel reader

Jarvis, Robin



© The Author 2013. William Beckford (1760-1844) is known chiefly as a collector, bibliophile, Orientalist, and author of the Gothic novel Vathek. In his early life, he was also an inveterate traveller, and the published and unpublished writing he produced on the basis of his travels vastly outweighed his fictional output, but has received surprisingly little critical attention by comparison. Travel books were a prominent part of Beckford's nationally celebrated library, and, as was his habit with books of all kinds, he made careful notes on his reading, extracting interesting passages and occasionally inserting framing remarks or observations of his own. This article briefly reviews Beckford's career as a traveller and travel writer as context for a study of his practices and preferences as a travel reader, using as its raw material, compilations of his reading notes, and books formerly owned by Beckford (with manuscript notes intact), held by the Bodleian Library. Whereas Beckford's travel writing displays in abundance those qualities of interiority and imaginative freedom long synonymous with the idea of romantic travel, as a travel reader he shows a keen interest in the empirical content of books, with a particular eye for landscape descriptions, natural history, and anthropological curiosities. At the same time, he is capable of talking directly and animatedly to books or their authors, and is occasionally provoked into commenting on social or political matters. The article is a case study on the history of reading, with a rare focus on the popular romantic genre of travel literature.


Jarvis, R. (2014). William beckford: Travel writer, travel reader. Review of English Studies, 65(268), 99-117.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2014
Journal Review of English Studies
Print ISSN 0034-6551
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 65
Issue 268
Pages 99-117
Keywords Beckford, travel, reading, reception, marginalia, annotation
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