Literary Construction of Johnson, Smollett, and Sterne Travelogues Objectives - Literature Essay Example


Literary Construction of Johnson, Smollett, and Sterne Travelogues


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The objective of this discussion is to read and understand the travelogues written by Samuel Johnson, “A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland,” Tobias George Smollett, “Travels through France and Italy,” and Laurence Stern, “A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.” Each travelogue covers a section that exhibit similarities with the other two travelogues. The remainder of this discussion will look into these sections with the purpose of determining similar aspects, perspectives, and structures in terms of the factual or fictional construction of information. In order to develop efficiently rational assumptions and arguments, the narrative model developed by Gerard Genette will be employed to analyze the discourses.

Similarities of the Travelogues based on Genette’s Narrative Discourse Model

The most interesting section to explore within the three travelogues would be the initial sections or chapters wherein the authors began to develop the foundations of their thoughts and experiences about their travel. The first few paragraphs of Johnson’s book were about his reminiscence of his long-lived desire to visit Hebrides in Scotland followed then by a narrative of his journey to the place began. Johnson vividly described the places he has seen from the beginning of the journey until the end and provided comprehensive discussion of what he has seen in the places he visited or passed and the unfamiliar events or situations that he has experienced while there.

The beginning of Smollett’s travelogue was a clear representation of how his work was structured. The narratives or stories of Smollett about his travels were expressed in the form of letters that were used to report of his various experiences. However, although the format or structure of Smollett’s travelogue may seem to be dissimilar from the two travelogues, the order of the author’s narrative is similar to Johnson’s such that Smollett wrote his travelogue chronologically. This goes the same with Sterne’s travelogue. Sterne opened up the first section of his travelogue by relating his thoughts and opinions about what happened the moment he arrived in his destination and continued his book by narrating events from the beginning until the end.

Aside from the order of narration, the frequency, which determines the retelling of a particular event and following it up with narratives, was also similar between the three travelogues. Apparently, all the events in the three travelogues, when seen under the context of frequency based on Genette’s narrative discourse model, follows a singular pattern. The narrations were in the past tense and were recounted only once, perhaps also because of the fact that were written chronologically. The travelogues were not entirely reflections but primarily narratives of the authors’ separate journeys. Thus, the frequency of the events and narrations in the book were progressive, moving from earlier events to latter, in an ordered uninterrupted manner.

In terms of duration, which is the third element in Genette’s narrative discourse model, all the books had long discourse and narrative time. The discourse time, which determines the period of time covered by a discourse or narrative, was lengthy in all three travelogues since the travels or journeys of the authors covered a long period of time. Johnson, Smollett, and Sterne went to many places, watched or saw different sceneries or landmarks, and so on. The lengthy discourse time common in all three travelogues is proven simply by the time or dates covered by Smollett’s letters during his journey. When it comes to the narrative time, which determines the required amount of time that a reader may be able to read through a narrative or a discourse, all three travelogues are long. This means that for readers, going over the travelogues would take a large amount of time.

The quality and direction of voice, which is concerned with the origin of the thoughts or ideas in the book as well as the place of the narrator within or outside the book, are also similar in all three travelogues. This may be because Johnson, Smollett, and Sterne were the ones directly writing their travelogues making the ideas, thoughts, and experiences in the books their own. In this case, the quality of voice is intra-diegetic in nature, such that the voices of the authors may be felt or heard directly from the texts or discourses. In addition, because the narrators of the travelogues are the authors themselves, they are considered homo-diegetic because their narratives are entirely based on their personal experiences making them main characters in the travelogues.

Although the mood varies slightly between the three travelogues, they still exhibit the same attributes such that the thoughts, ideas and perspectives are internally focalized. Johnson’s book may be more of a descriptive approach to narrating travel experiences, Smollett’s was informative in nature assuming from the fact that his book contained letters addressed to an expectant recipient, and Sterne’s, although descriptive, was more of his thoughts and emotions during his journey. However, despite the slight differences in form and mood, their travelogues were all internally focalized because the primary thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and even the nature of the narratives themselves were personal. When we read all three books, we will realize that their narrations and descriptions, although based on facts and direct observations, were influenced by their personal perspectives and internal thoughts.

Factual and Fictional Construction

The similarities between the three travelogues in terms of the factual and fictional construction of the literatures are evident in the general structure of the books. By and large, the books were written in such a way that the authors relate their actual experiences, what they saw and what they heard for instance. These actual observations along with genuine information based on their previous readings, experiences, and so on make up the construction of factual information that would make the books more valid and reliable. In contrast, the essence of a travelogue is not merely the presentation of facts but also the inclusion of personal thoughts and insights by the authors. This aspect of the travelogue establishes the construction of fictional information.

In all books, the construction of factual and fictional information was simultaneous. Throughout the travelogues, the authors presented many factual information followed by their personal thoughts or opinions on the matter. For instance, in Johnston’s travelogue, he offered a vivid description of one of the places he visited. Johnston said, “We found only the ruins of a small fort, not so injured by time but that it might be easily restored to its former state… There is… no provision of water within the walls though the spring is so near that it might have been easily inclosed. (p. 3)” However, Johnston also offered his thoughts saying after “We left this little island with our thoughts employed a while on the different appearance that it would have made… with what emulation of price a few rocky acres would have been purchased, and with what expensive industry they would have been cultivated and adorned” (p. 3).

On the other hand, Smollett offered a factual observation of accommodations in Rochester, Sittingbourn, and Canterbury. Smollett said, “bad as they are, they certainly have the advantage, when compared with the execrable auberges of this country, where one finds nothing but dirt and imposition” (p. 83). A fictional opinion would be Smollett’s statement after saying “One would imaging the French were still at war with the English, for they pillage them without mercy” (p. 83). In Sterne’s dramatic travelogue, he said, “The man who first transplanted the grape of Burgundy to the Cape of Good Hope… never dreamt of drinking the same wine at the Cape, that the same grape produced upon the French mountains – he was too phlegmatic for that – but undoubtedly he expected to drink some sort of vinbus liquor” (p. 13). Sterne’s statement was a connection between facts and fiction such that he related the relationship between two places but also included his opinion about how the people from these places actually handle their relationship with each other, as based on Sterne’s opinions.

As previously mentioned, the factual and fictional construction of information or ideas is simultaneous in the three travelogues. I believe this structure, wherein facts and fiction fuse is instrumental in developing travelogues that are intended not only to inform, but also to inform with authority and reliability as experienced travelers through the authors’ personal insights and experiences.




Works Cited


Genette, Gerard. “Narrative Discourse.” New York, NY: Cornell University Press,           1980.


Johnson, Samuel. “A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.” Printed for T.            Cadell and W. Davies, 1817.


Smollett, Tobias George. “Travels through France and Italy.” Plain Label Books,             1907.


Sterne, Laurence. “A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.” Printer for P.        Miller and J. White, 1774.

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