The Art of Travel

by

Alain De Botton

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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 analysis of Alain de Botton

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 analysis of M.

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 analysis of Duc des Esseintes

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 analysis of Charles Baudelaire 

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 analysis of Edward Hopper
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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 analysis of Gustave Flaubert

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 analysis of Alexander von Humboldt

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 analysis of William Wordsworth

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 analysis of Edmund Burke

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 analysis of God

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 analysis of Job

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 analysis of Vincent van Gogh

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 analysis of John Ruskin

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 analysis of Xavier de Maistre

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 analysis of Friedrich Nietzsche

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 analysis of Blaise Pascal
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.