In a nation struggling to establish its own identity, all kinds of Americans, for all kinds of reasons, were enchanted with Europe. A European trip, whether extravagant or modest, could serve social advancement, aesthetic enrichment, or personal curiosity. Travel allowed men and women, the descendants of European settlers or African slaves, to shed their familiar surroundings and comfortable personas, adopt new roles, and measure themselves against the European experience.
These travelers were often also writers. Throughout the nineteenth century, celebrated authors and beginners alike published newspaper columns, magazine articles, guidebooks, travel essays, letters, and novels based on their European journeys. In Going Abroad, Stowe examines not only classic works by such writers as Irving, Fuller, Twain, James, and Adams, but also lesser-known works by African-American authors, journalists, feminist writers, and diarists.
Travel and the writing of it were important, Stowe argues, in molding a peculiarly democratic, yet essentially class-based, sense of personal and group identity. Combining literary and cultural analysis, he suggests new ways of understanding nineteenth-century Americans' concept of their nation and its place in the world.
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