A Sentimental Journey (1768), by Laurence Sterne

sentimentaljourneyThis book is #6 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014.

Well, it’s been a while since I posted a book review. But fear not! I haven’t been neglecting my reading. In fact, now that the winter break has begun, I’ve finally been able to focus on Books I Actually Want to Read, rather than constantly struggling through the tyranny of Books I Must Read For Class or Risk Failing. Meanwhile, I’ve got a backlog of reviews that I’m hoping to share with you all, starting with another travel-inspired tome.

There are several reasons why I wanted to read Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. Not only is it a turning-point in the history of travel writing, it also makes fun of the self-obsessed and narrow-minded travel accounts of older generations, something I’m sure almost everyone enjoys, if only in small doses. Sterne’s novel was also a precursor to the approach of Romantic writers like Goethe, whose Italian Journey I read earlier this year. Continue reading

The Top Five Things Goethe Can Teach Us About Travel

goethesdisguiseI recently read Goethe’s Italian Journey, an account of the famous German writer’s trip to Italy in the 1780s. At the end of my review, I promised I’d share a few pieces of wisdom that I picked up from reading Goethe’s account. It’s amazing how recognisable some of his experiences are. Close your eyes, and you can almost imagine nothing has changed. This got me thinking, and I ended up going through the text looking for a few lessons Goethe might have been trying to impart on his readers. So, without further ado, I’d like to present…

The Top Five Things Goethe Can Teach Us About Travel

#1: Enjoy the Ride Continue reading

Review: Italian Journey (1816-17), by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

goetheitalianjourneyHere’s a question: what does an eighteenth-century gentleman, with a fair amount of money, a comfortable desk job, and a passion for rocks and plants do when he finds himself suffering through the throngs of a mid-life crisis?

My natural answer, of course, would be this: he buys a racing carriage and starts wearing leather coat-tails.

If, however, that eighteenth-century gentleman happens to be Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the desk job happens to be a post working for the Weimar government, and the passion for rocks and plants happens to be – well, a passion for rocks and plants – then he might very well drop everything he’s doing and run away to Italy. We’ve all been there, right gents? Your hair starts receding, you go to Italy. It’s been done so often it’s almost a cliché.

However, while most gentlemen in this position content themselves with new haircuts and a little harmless flirting with the girl who brings their coffee every morning, Goethe went one further. In 1786, he set out from Weimar in the dead of night, possibly elaborately disguised (at least I’d like to think so), and using a fake name. Continue reading

Romantics in Rome: the German Edition

IMG_1457.2Last week I looked at some of the English Romantics who chose to call Rome their home. I’ve already discussed one of my favourite museums in the world, the Keats-Shelley House, but Rome also appealed to writers from the other side of the Channel. So while in Rome I decided to visit the Casa di Goethe and see where the famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived, wrote, and painted. It was also a place of particular interest because at the time I was knee-deep in Goethe’s book Italian Journey, about his time in Italy (though not literally knee-deep, of course. That would have been embarrassing while trying to read on the train to Pompeii).

So what was this famous German writer doing in Rome? Well, it’s a funny story, and it goes something like this: Continue reading