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Red, white and blue highways: British travel writing and the American road trip in the late twentieth century

By Rachel Amanda Holmes


This study locates late-twentieth-century roadlogues (nonfiction, prose accounts of American road trips) by British writers within the tradition of the postwar American highway narrative in travel writing, novels, and film. It exposes the discursive structures and textual constraints underlying seven case studies published in the 1990s by comparing them to texts from various genres in diachronic and synchronic contexts. It contributes to scholarship on the American highway narrative, which largely overlooks British texts. It complements research on British travel writing, which tends to be biased towards pre-twentieth-century texts by travellers whose culture is in a dominant relation to that of travellees. It adds to postcolonial studies through analysis of representations of the other where otherness is reduced and complicated by a history of cultural exchange.\ud \ud The methodology combines several approaches including discourse theory, discourse analysis, narrative theory, feminist criticism, and theories of tourism. Three main areas are considered: identity, in relation to nationality and gender; the road writer's gaze, with regard to vehicles and roads; and intertextuality, on the margins (in maps) and inside roadlogues (in direct and indirect allusions).\ud \ud The study concludes that contemporary British roadlogues are in what is almost a subordinate relation to American highway narratives, evidenced by extensive influence of American texts. However, this subordination is qualified by joint ownership of western and New World myths, vestiges of imperial superiority, and selective deference by British writers. The latter is demonstrated through a consumer approach to American culture afforded by the episodic structure of the road trip and encouraged by the niche-oriented nature of the current market for travel writing. While American writers regard roadscapes with imperial eyes and experience the road trip as a rite of passage, contemporary Britons generally engage in superficial role play and remain untransformed by American highways

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