Nobody was ever less of a travel writer than Virginia Woolf,’ Jan Morris writes in her introduction to Travels with Virginia Woolf. ‘She was really unbreakably loyal to England’, she dreaded becoming ‘that perennially grim figure – the travel bore’ and her distaste for going about among ‘ordinary people’ at times amounted to an almost Swiftian misanthropy. Woolfs travel writing seems, therefore, a quirky choice of raw material to form the substance of a travel book. But Jan Morris has carried out her task thoroughly, gathering together everything Virginia Woolf ever wrote about places in her diaries and letters and a few travel essays, arranging the writings chronologically and then doggedly following in her footsteps, tracking down guesthouses and pensiones, churches and views, and adding her own comments and impressions.
In this way we get both women’s, often very different, descriptions. Different not just because time and progress have wrought so many changes on the places (nearly always for the worse) but because, one being a travel writer and one being a writer of another kind, Jan Morris and Virginia