Innes M. Keighren, Charles W. J. Withers and Bill Bell, Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing and Publishing with John Murray, 1773–1859 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 392pp. ISBN 978-0-2264-2953-3; $46 (hb).
Travels into Print, co-written by three researchers interested in travel books yet specialising in different disciplines, promises to be, to say the least, impressively broad in its scope. Indeed, as the authors themselves point out in the preface, their study is concerned with geographical exploration, travel writing and book history. It concentrates on non-European narratives of travel and exploration which were all published by the London-based company of John Murray between the late eighteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries. Throughout the book the authors’ primary goal is to lay out all ‘the stages of books’ travel into print’ (p. 32).
The opening chapter gives us a foretaste of what is to come in further parts. We are informed how narratives of travel and exploration were undertaken in the field (written and rewritten); how explorers endeavored to gain credibility as truthful and authoritative writers; how the publisher shaped the raw material and influenced the process of book production, at times adjusting the narratives to satisfy the implied readers’ expectations; and finally, how the already printed travel books inspired other explorers to undertake and recount their own travels.
The second chapter goes into the practicalities of travel and in-the-field writing. Here, we read about Murray’s authors travelling for personal reasons, out of curiosity or to test others’ texts. More interesting, however, are the insights into the cases of explorers who were formally instructed (for example, by the government) to record their doings for scientific or diplomatic reasons. Whatever the motive, writing in the field was hindered by the constraints encountered in a given location (which is aptly illustrated with the narratives from the Arctic, Central Asia and Africa). Over time, as we learn, this experience was facilitated by instructive manuals published by the house of Murray, which regulated travel and provided methodological tools for geographical knowledge.
The following chapter discusses explorers’ attempts at establishing and securing their credibility as authors while still on their way. Whether one was considered a true traveller or a ‘travel liar’ depended on, among other issues, methodological and rhetorical strategies used while writing. Readers were thus informed about all measures applied by the authors, such as their sources of scholarly citation, details of scientific instrumentation and means of achieving authenticity among the locals or assuming appropriate self-presentation, thus proving their resourcefulness and correct scientific investigation. At this stage, the house of Murray expected its explorer–authors ‘to act as arbiters of knowledge and testimony’ (p. 99); as we learn further on, the role of the publisher as to the authors’ credibility became more dominant in the process of publication.
Chapter 4 concentrates on the notion of authorship—that is, on how a traveller/explorer turned into or was made an author. It is claimed that the concept of the ‘modest author’ was not merely a popular literary convention at the time but rather a critical condition for the establishment of an author’s authority. We are provided with details of the behind-the-scenes process of book production, which was controlled by John Murray by means of censorship, editing but also textual interference or manipulation, particularly in the case of texts of exploratory and scientific character. The following chapter zooms in on the details of the process of book production in the house of Murray. It provides a thorough analysis of paratextual elements (title pages, frontispieces, dedications, epigraphs) as well as visual aspects (particularly, illustrations, maps and graphs)—aspects that are not always present in the studies of travel literature. The chapter convincingly demonstrates how these framing materials served as mediators between the book and its target consumers (p. 174). Murray’s paratextual and visual strategies enhanced (or created) the authoritative, legitimate and scholarly character of the initially raw travel narratives in order to guarantee their sales potential.
The book closes with a discussion of the changing policy of the house of Murray towards their travel series and its readership at a time of great advances in printing technology. We learn from the inside how Murray’s literary advisors employed numerous editing, publishing and marketing strategies to mould authors’ works so that they would appeal to the interests of specific audiences. The chapter makes a persuasive claim that the final printed work was always the product of contradictory forces—that is, of authorial independence, in-house intervention and industrialised production. An extensive conclusion to the study makes up the final chapter, and is followed by an Appendix—a great asset to the book, providing a thorough and detailed (almost sixty pages long) bibliography of the 239 books of non-European travel and exploration published by Murray in the period in question. This will serve as a valuable point of reference to all researching the period, be they book historians, literary scholars or geographers.
The rapid development of publishing industry in Britain as well as Britain’s unbounded imperial ambitions between the late eighteenth- and the mid-nineteenth centuries constituted ideal conditions for travel literature to flourish. This is the fact underlined by Travels into Print, but also by many other studies in the field. Yet, the focus of this book differs considerably from the others. By means of numerous well-researched and aptly selected examples it demonstrates how ‘the world was put into words by the house of John Murray and that firm’s authors’ (p. 211) and that books of travel and exploration ‘were acts of assemblage, of craft, and of truth making’ (p. 210). Even those literary scholars who could expect more formal analyses will definitely find the book refreshing (given its numerous references to non-canonical texts) and will appreciate the metaphorical presentation of the most important journey depicted here—the one undertaken by travel texts themselves, from mere in-the-field notebooks to published and promoted works.