Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eothen - by Alexander William Kinglake

Free US/UK Kindle Classic
Eothen, or, Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East by English writer Alexander William Kinglake. (US Edition) (UK Edition

Published in 1844, it is one of the finest examples of travel literature, a genre I love and am well read in; although I have not read very many books from the 1800’s. But I did read and love this book.  It is a marvel.  I have only to show you the beginning and you will know if you are the reader for this book:

At Semlin I still was encompassed by the scenes and the sounds of familiar life; the din of a busy world still vexed and cheered me; the unveiled faces of women still shone in the light of day. Yet, whenever I chose to look southward, I saw the Ottoman’s fortress - austere, and darkly impending high over the vale of the Danube - historic Belgrade. I had come, as it were, to the end of this wheel-going Europe, and now my eyes would see the splendour and havoc of the East.

The two frontier towns are less than a cannon-shot distant, and yet their people hold no communion. The Hungarian on the north, and the Turk and Servian on the southern side of the Save are as much asunder as though there were fifty broad provinces that lay in the path between them. Of the men that bustled around me in the streets of Semlin there was not, perhaps, one who had ever gone down to look upon the stranger race dwelling under the walls of that opposite castle. It is the plague, and the dread of the plague, that divide the one people from the other. All coming and going stands forbidden by the terrors of the yellow flag. If you dare to break the laws of the quarantine, you will be tried with military haste; the court will scream out your sentence to you from a tribunal some fifty yards off; the priest, instead of gently whispering to you the sweet hopes of religion, will console you at duelling distance; and after that you will find yourself carefully shot, and carelessly buried in the ground of the lazaretto.

The author travels to Syria and Egypt, two places much changed in the last two years. You can imaging the change from 1844!
Here are a couple of Amazon UK Reader Reviews (love those readers!) that you might find helpful:

This is a book to be treasured and I read it several times. It is hard to imagine the world Kinglake describes which is virtually extinct now at a time when lions abounded in Eastern Europe, Caliphs and Pashas smoked their pipes through long tubing and Lady Hester Stanhope gets esoteric.

Full of humour, the book is as British as they come with such sensitive nuances about the subject matter including disease, women, customs and issues of religion in the holy land.

I'm still looking for this brand of hero inside and out but don't think he's that common except as a carricature. Did Kinglake's world and attitude really exist?
And . . .
Absolutely Charming. A picture of an admirable type of man, long since extinct: The aristocratic Englishman, who views everything with an ironic good humor, and complains about nothing, no matter how dangerous, or annoying,or trying. The writing itself is priceless, the subject matter interesting, but it is the man himself that makes the book.

This travel book will let you travel to a different time and place - a point that can only be reached through Eothen.

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