The search for true hospitality in the travel writing of Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain.


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In their travel books, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain participated in a nineteenth-century debate about American hospitality. Having inherited a Puritan perspective regarding land and respecting social cohesion, many Americans in the nineteenth century practiced aristocratic hospitality, a hospitality often dictated by class or religious practices that emphasized conformity in an effort to mitigate fear and minimize risk. Fuller, Thoreau, Melville, and Twain all encountered this hospitality while crossing geographical thresholds or welcoming others across their own thresholds. In response, they depict their experiences and use the hospitable travel genre itself to promote republican hospitality, a hospitality that emphasizes openness to unfamiliar and diverse people and places. Because the primary threat to republican hospitality is ideas often inherited from or inculcated by one’s culture (what Edward Said calls imagined geographies), these authors, in unique and various ways, aim to foster mental hospitality, a concept that appeared in liberal Christian teaching that is prerequisite to practicing republican hospitality. Fuller uses encounters with remnants of American Indian culture and beleaguered Indians themselves to reflect on American attitudes toward the frontier. Thoreau adds descriptions to Walden of Concord’s erstwhile dispossessed and marginalized to counter complicity in Fugitive Slave Law politics. Ultimately, Melville uses the Typee to shed light on American ideas regarding assimilation. And Twain plays the naïve but brash exceptional American abroad to demonstrate the way American travelers see the places and people of Europe and the Holy Land according to their totalizing schemes. Fuller, Thoreau, Melville, and Twain are imperfect practitioners of hospitality. Each is, at times, beset by her or his own biases. Nonetheless, they use travel and travel writing to challenge their peers’ penchant for provincialism, a penchant preserved by aristocratic hospitality. They invite their readers to move beyond the self (which they describe variously as narrator/traveler, the reader, or, at times, the country writ large) as they set out in search of true or republican hospitality. Through their travel books, they offer their readers opportunity to engage in a similar journey of discovery.



Travel writing. Republican hospitality. Aristocratic hospitality. Mental hospitality. Imagined geographies.