Horizons lost and found: Travel, writing, and Tibet in the age of imperialism

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics


James S. Duncan


Tibet travel stories

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles


Since Marco Polo's day, traveling to Tibet has offered certain promises to the West--whether those promises were trade, gold, or self-realization. My dissertation concentrates on the travel narratives written on Tibet by British travelers from 1773 to 1933. The nineteenth century, during which Tibet was largely closed to outsiders, was a time of important knowledge-production and "self"-definition in Victorian and Anglo-Indian culture. Arguing that a consideration of the colonial context is essential for understanding the ways in which British travelers account for their journeys, I analyze a number of texts both within the context of the conventions and structures of travel narratives and within the context of British colonialism in South Asia. I explore the ways in which each text deals with the pressures of genre as well as with conflicts and contradictions within colonialist discourse and ideology. Using "border" as a metaphor for divisions between nations, genres, and peoples, I consider the ways in which available tropes and narrative forms (such as ironic travel stories, natural history writing, ethnology, and the novel) shape travel stories at particular historical moments. By examining the influence of the structure of conversion and the Bildungsgeschichte on travel narratives, I argue that the British dream of transformation in Tibet helped to solve a colonial dilemma in the early twentieth century. This idea of travel to Tibet as transformation then becomes a paradigm with which writers of later accounts of travel to Tibet in English must grapple. My approach in this study relies on close analysis of selected texts: these include the travel accounts of George Bogle, Samuel Turner, Thomas Manning, Sarat Chandra Das, Francis Younghusband, and Peter Matthiessen; as well as the ethnological studies of Brian Hodgson and L. Austine Waddell; and novels such as Rudyard Kipling's Kim and James Hilton's Lost Horizon


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