catharinal (catharinal) wrote,


Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping

Wikipedia helpfully fills me in on author, journalist and world traveller Stephen Graham, whose name I'd never come across before:

Stephen Graham (1884–1975) was a British journalist, travel-writer, essayist and novelist. His best-known books recount his travels around pre-revolutionary Russia and his journey to Jerusalem with a group of Russian Christian pilgrims. Most of his works express his sympathy for the poor, for agricultural labourers and for tramps, and his distaste for industrialisation.

There's even a website in his honour:

Graham is way ahead of his time, preceding Kerouac and the Beats, preceding Steinbeck, preceding most of what we consider modern travelogues.

The book is written in a humorous, light tone throughout: this is a self-mocking guidebook for gentleman trampers, not 'professional' hoboes. It is addressed to those who seek to step out of their upper-class routine and tedium for a while, to peek into something completely fresh and new (and to have something to brag about to their chums upon their return). It provides practical assistance for an unabashedly romantic endeavour: setting out on a hike on foot.

I have trouble imagining how Graham's ideas might've been received by his contemporaries: I guess we are given straightforward hints in the numerous reminders in the style of [--] He is still wearing a shadow-topper and invisible cut-away coat weeks after he has started into the wilds. Graham, a product of a Victorian society, is rather pessimistic about any prospects of equality and the disappearance of class barriers. He sees himself and other vacationing trampers as just that, vacationing, never completely adjusting to this new way of life. He openly admires a different set of values, but doesn't map out his ideology anywhere as closely as his tramping gear – one starts to wonder if maybe he doesn't have an ideology after all, maybe he's just an observer of habits. It's odd really: he had explored a great part of the world on foot and resided among numerous cultures, yet he doesn't see 'a way out' to liberation other than occasional tramping.

Something else very Victorian also shines through from Graham's writing: the attitude towards women, here very much 'the weaker sex'. Not going into detail here, after all it's more the fault of the society and not the individual author; just consider all the assumptions on women, the gender hierarchy, and gender relations in this passage, for example:

The cold wet nose of a hedgehog touching your beloved's cheek may cause her to rend the air with a shriek, a field mouse at her toes cause her scarcely less alarm. It is good to pack her in a really capacious sleeping bag; it excludes rodents. And if you not too big you can snuggle into it yourself, if the lady proves to be nervous and you are on such terms of fellowship as to make it possible.

A night of murmurings and deepening shadows and freshness, and then perhaps, of a gentle rain before dawn, and of glimmerings of new day and sweetness of wild flowers and birds' songs before the sunrise. You watch the boles of the great trees grow into stateliness in the twilight, and the night is over.

Despite the shortcomings rising out of an 'educated' reading, this is certainly a book to be enjoyed – if only for the romanticism of it. I will be keeping it in my collection, but I'll lend it to anyone who's interested in reading it.
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