“The Song They Sing Is the Song of the Road”

Motoring and the Semantics of Space in Early Twentieth-Century British Travel Writing

in Volume 5 (2015): Issue 2 (Jun 2015)
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When, in the early twentieth century, British middle-class writers went on a tour in search of their country, travel writing not only saw the re-emergence of the home tour, but also the increasing appearance of the motorcar on British roads. With the travelogue playing the role of a discursive arena in which debates about automobility were visualized, the article argues that, as they went “in search of England,” writers like Henry Vollam Morton and J. B. Priestley not only took part in the ideological framing of motoring as a social practice, but also contributed to a change in the perception of accessing a seemingly remote English countryside. By looking at a number of contemporary British travelogues, the analysis traces the strategies of how the driving subjects staged their surroundings, and follows the authors' changing attitudes toward the cultural habit of traveling: instead of highlighting the seemingly static nature of the meaning of space, the travelogues render motoring a dynamic and procedural spatial practice, thus influencing notions of nature, progress, and tradition.