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Shifting Paradigms

British Travellers in Serbia during the First World War

Andrew Hammond

In the autumn of 1851, Edward Lear set off from a temporary residence in Istanbul for a painting tour of Ottoman-held Albania and Macedonia, armed with a sheaf of travel permits and letters of introduction to Ottoman governors. The precautionary letters were essential, for despite his dedicated pursuit of the picturesque Lear understood Albania to be not just ‘a puzzle of the highest order’ but a place of ‘savage oddity’ renowned ‘for the ferocity of the aborigines’ (Lear 1988: 11, 51, 31). His worst fears seem realised as soon as his boat lands at Thessaloniki. ‘Instantly the wildest confusion seized all’, he writes, as a crowd of porters fight over his luggage with ‘the most furious hair-pulling, turbanclenching, and robe-tearing’, only desisting when government troops give them a ‘severe beating [with] sticks and whips’ (1988: 20). The images of chaos and violence mount as Lear travels from the coast into Albanian regions, where the imputedly wretched towns, infested lodgings, thievery and hostility test the patience of this most good-natured of Englishmen. Indeed, at one point, when his attempts to sketch the indigenes result in his being pelted with ‘unceasing showers of stones, sticks, and mud’, he goes so far as to consider them his ‘enemies’ (1988: 47). The landscape may have delighted the artist, and driven him onward in his journey, but he is filled with dread at the thought of actually inhabiting this ‘strange and fearful’ region (1988: 145).

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