Edith Durham in ‘The Land of the Living Past’: Discursive Instability in Early Twentieth Century Travel Writing on the Balkans
This paper analyses the synchronic instability of representations of the Balkans found in the travel writing of Edith Durham. Primarily considering Durham’s first three travel books, Through the Lands of the Serb (1904), The Burden of the Balkans (1905) and High Albania (1909), it argues that her writings were highly malleable with her representations of the region shifting depending upon her subject positionality, which is determined by a variety of intersectional factors including gender, race and class, and the influence of competing discursive formations. Moving beyond biographical approaches to women’s travel writing on the Balkans that elide the influence of colonial discourse in the production of texts (Allcock and Young, 2000), this paper integrates Durham’s corpus of travel writing with scholarship on Western discourses on Southeast Europe, known as ‘balkanism’ (Todorova, 1997). It will illustrate that Durham’s fluid representations of the region challenge hegemonic understandings of balkanism and partially destabilise the denigratory hierarchies upon which the discourse is predicated. This paper will conclude by using Durham’s travel writing to propose some broader conclusions on the fluidity of British images of the Balkans in the early-twentieth century.