Date of Award

Spring 2012

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Robin Hackett


British travel writing has for centuries helped to construct English identity in relation to its others. The traditional function of travel narratives to define Englishness, however, faced a fundamental crisis of meaning when the British Empire starting falling apart after WWII. This crisis emerged as an explicit literary subject in several key 1960s novels: John Fowles's The Magus (1965), V. S. Naipaul's The Mimic Men (1967), and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). In these three novels, Fowles, Naipaul and Rhys critique British imperialism by engaging and reinventing the travel narrative form. Although many British writers publishing during the 60s were using travel tropes and the generic conventions of travel narratives in their fiction, they were rarely doing so to question how the connotations of travel had changed with the end of empire or to investigate in self-critical fashion the role of travel in endorsing imperial versions of English national identity. Fowles, Naipaul, and Rhys, on the other hand, argue against nostalgic travel narratives of the 60s by demonstrating the generic limitations of those narratives in representing Englishness after empire and by interrogating the very notion of travel itself. They illustrate how typical elements of the genre such as the gentleman traveler, the freedom and agency of travel, the containment of the other, the trope of travel as a journey of self-discovery, and the use of literary realism inadequately address the emerging postimperial order. In rethinking the role of travel narratives after empire, these three novels help constitute the crisis in meaning for British travel fiction during the postimperial turn of the 1960s.