The Art of Travel

The Art of Travel Characters

Alain de Botton

The author and narrator of the book. De Botton is a Swiss-born British essayist famous for his controversial pop-philosophy self-help books that explore canonical European thinkers’ relevance to a wide variety of topics in everyday… (read full character analysis)

M.

Alain de Botton’s girlfriend and traveling companion in Barbados and the Lake District. M. spends much of their vacation in Barbados reading on the beach before the couple gets in a heated argument over… (read full character analysis)

Duc des Esseintes

The protagonist of J.K. Huysmans’ famous novel À Rebours, the Duc des Esseintes is a wealthy, decadent French nobleman who loves imagining voyages to foreign lands. After becoming enamored with Dutch painting, he… (read full character analysis)

Charles Baudelaire 

The famous 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire, whom de Botton profiles in his second essay, grew up as something of a misfit in French society: he did not get along with his family, schoolmates, or… (read full character analysis)

Edward Hopper

The early 20th-century American artist Edward Hopper was famous for painting traveling places, from hotels and gas stations to trains and roadside cafeterias. To de Botton, who presents a series of these paintings… (read full character analysis)
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Gustave Flaubert

A deeply influential 19th-century French realist novelist, best known for Madame Bovary. From a young age, Flaubert was frustrated with the social codes of the French aristocracy and dreamed about leaving his home city… (read full character analysis)

Alexander von Humboldt

A German polymath (an expert in many subjects) who traveled in South America from 1799 until 1804 and wrote thirty volumes about the broad range of scientific discoveries he made there. From an early age… (read full character analysis)

William Wordsworth

An English poet who lived his whole life in the Lake District, Wordsworth transformed the British public’s attitude toward the countryside by arguing that people from the city needed to spend time in nature in… (read full character analysis)

Edmund Burke

An 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman whose A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful revolutionized European thinking on the concept of the sublime. He argued that, whereas… (read full character analysis)

God

De Botton sees the sublime as pointing to the existence of a higher power. He calls this God, referring to the traditional Abrahamic God who supposedly performed many of his greatest acts in the Sinai… (read full character analysis)

Job

A Biblical character who suddenly loses his immense wealth and good fortune when most of his livestock are stolen, his eldest son is killed, and he becomes covered in sores. He asks God what he… (read full character analysis)

Vincent van Gogh

A 19th century Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who remains one of the most influential artists in Western art. He lived the last three years of his life in Arles, in French Provence, where he produced the… (read full character analysis)

John Ruskin

A 19th-century British thinker and critic famous for the drawing classes he offered to English commoners. During his privileged childhood, Ruskin’s parents cultivated his interest in art, but he believed that people of all social… (read full character analysis)

Xavier de Maistre

A 19th-century French aristocrat, military man, and writer whose book Journey around My Bedroom Alain de Botton analyzes in his final essay. De Maistre did travel extensively for his military duties, but de Botton thinks… (read full character analysis)

Friedrich Nietzsche

A prominent 19th-century German philosopher whom Alain de Botton frequently quotes throughout his book. He argued that travel can be valuable because it allows people to learn information that they can use to enrich their… (read full character analysis)

Blaise Pascal

A 17th-century French scientist, mathematician, theologian, and philosopher whose most famous work, Pensées (“Thoughts”), Alain de Botton frequently cites throughout The Art of Travel. Most importantly, John Ruskin’s arguments for the virtues of… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
J. K. Huysmans
The pen name of Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans, a 19th-century French novelist and civil servant. He is best remembered for the decadent novel À Rebours (“Against Nature”), whose main character, the Duc des Esseintes, de Botton profiles in his first essay (“On Anticipation”).
Maxime Du Camp
Gustave Flaubert’s extremely practical friend and traveling companion in Egypt from 1849-1851. Later, he wrote a book critical of Flaubert, whose literary success outshone his own.