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Europe in the Looking Glass by Robert Byron

Europe in the Looking Glass (1926)

by Robert Byron

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I nearly gave up on this book half way through, but then reconsidered and reminded myself that the book does have redeeming features. Not many, but it does have them:

1. The description of the zeitgeist with which Byron and his friends are experiencing their adventure.

2. The description of Diana, the car. What a marvelous piece of motoring equipment she must have been, and

3. The spirit of the people that the three boys meet along the way.

As I noted along the way I couldn't help but sympathize with the people the three travelers meet, always rooting against Byron and his friends just for being pretentious louts.

Oh, and some of the descriptions of architecture are quite nice - if you're into reading about architecture, rather than looking at it. ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
As Christopher Hirst noted in his review for the London Independent (October 8th. 2013) this 1925 travel book, one of Bryon’s first, is ” Funny and humane, this book is a corrective to the allure of the past.” Byon is sent down “with only a 3rd. class degree” from Oxford, for persistently poor behavior. So, together with a group of upper-class chums, he decides to conduct a version of the “grand tour” and travels, in a large touring Sunbeam known as “Diana”, throughout the Europe of ‘between the wars’.

So, yes this early work is ‘dated’ (whatever that really means) and his prose is also of the period, and rather priggish and superior and thoroughly, humorously, enjoyable. His youthful dogmatism and class-induced views do not quite obscure that his ‘only 3rd. Class’ education was a very broad and thorough one; particularly in architectural art, history and the creation of readable and well-constructed prose.

Despite the frivolity and tone of his early views and opinions one can hear that more authoritive voice found in his master work, “The Road to Oxiana”( http://www.librarything.com/work/237867) and his descriptions of the peoples he meets, often barbed and witty, already show the deeper perceptions of that book, his last work.

A delightful read then, and despite all his ‘pranks’, educational.
1 vote John_Vaughan | Oct 15, 2013 |
I had to buy Europe in the Looking Glass due to the wonderfully evocative cover on the Hesperus Press edition.
Europe in the Looking Glass is written in a digressive, conversational style by a 20 year old about driving through Europe in 1925 and is full of humour (sometimes unintended), both in Byron's strongly held artistic convictions and for arch one-liners, such as "The Romans were vulgar before the rest of Europe had even become refined."
However, Byron opens a window into a lost past, where our narrator travels from name dropping hotel to hotel, automobiles are still a novelty in themselves and the Italian fascists are a source of amusement.
There is perception of the ugly side of current affairs, as when the Great Fire of Smyrna of 1922 is discussed in the context of the influx of refugees to Greece, and in particular Piraeus (I had previously read of Smyrna in The Mask of Dimitrios). Also the Dodecanese islands, which I had not realised had been acquired from the Ottoman empire in 1912 (during an Italian-Turkish war over Libya). Chapter XVII on the Wandervogel, who are early German backpackers, is enjoyable as it explains characters who appear along the roadside and as stowaways on the boat to Patras.
However, it is the descriptions of their travails whilst travelling that make this book a joy to read. For example, the descriptions of the difficulties of transporting their car, Diana, from Corfu to Patras and then onwards by train to Corinth (they had not realised that there were no roads from Patras to Corinth) or the descriptions of the roads when finding their way out of Naples ("By the time we reached Salerno, we had taken two hours to go thirty miles. But then, as we turned inland, the road became easier, narrowing as it ascended the mountains and developing at the same time a smoother surface, by the reason of the simple fact that it had never experienced any traffic to disturb it. From now until Brindisi, 240 miles, we met one motor-drawn vehicle."
Read it and enjoy a glimpse of a time just before mass tourist travel, as seen through the eyes of an upper class Englishman, who can see the humour in their daily travels as well as the classical beauty of Italy and Greece. ( )
2 vote CarltonC | May 19, 2013 |
Showing 3 of 3
Perceptive in its observation of 1925 Europe ("Italy is the victim not so much of a dictatorship but...of an armed mob"), his account varies from the alien ("children covered with sores dispensing prawns, shoe polish, lives of saints and improper novels" have vanished from Athenian cafés) to the deeply familiar.

The road from Naples to Salerno remains thronged with traffic "directed by neither police nor by its drivers". Funny and humane, this book is a corrective to the allure of the past.
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Robert Byron is best known for The road to Oxiana, but Europe in the looking glass was written twelve years earlier. Byron and three friends set off in 1925 to travel across Europe from Hamburg to Athens. Byron's skill as a travel writer evokes a picture of Europe in the 1920's that was soon to be irrevocably changed by the First World War.… (more)

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