Bureaucracy: A Handbook for Travellers in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden

John Murray, A Handbook for Travellers in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. London: 1871. Guidebook and inserted flowers and plants.


John Murray III’s (1808–1892) A Handbook for Travellers in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden is the third edition of a volume in his popular series of red travel guidebooks, which were published throughout the nineteenth century. Although Murray’s handbooks were first published in England, they quickly began to circulate beyond the British Isles and eventually sold between 500,000 and 700,000 copies per European country throughout the nineteenth century. Generally, these guidebooks were designed for a middle-class audience, who began to travel beyond the British Isles at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The books aimed to offer a thorough yet user-friendly source of information that would allow travelers to make their way independently through entire countries and continents (Damien 19).

The particular success of Murray’s handbooks represented a cultural shift in the way that travel-guides were constructed. In the early nineteenth century, travel-guides were generally much less extensive in their scope than the vast array of information Murray’s Handbook offered. Indeed, Murray aimed for an encyclopedia-like completeness and accordingly provided advice about details such as modes of travel, money, passports, whether to take a servant, and where not to take a lady, in addition to historical notes and “Skeleton Tours,” or suggested routes. By contrast, earlier travel-guides covered only the areas personally traveled by their author.  Murray’s series provided a vast array of information that he revised over time by adding new information from many different sources (François 72). He collaborated with travelers to collect data about various countries, and, like many publishers of travel guides, he also appropriated information (such as maps and sites of interest) found in other lesser-known travel guides.  In this way, the guidebooks made the memories of previous travelers the foundation of anticipated memories for readers.  Moreover, the appropriation of information from other guidebooks ultimately served to undercut competitors. For example, Johann J. Lehnhardt successfully published a series of maps designed to accompany Murray’s guides until “Murray quickly improved the quality of the maps in his travel guides, cutting out the market for Lehnhardt’s” (François 83). These maps are folded within and attached to the handbook on display, representing each area of travel in precise detail.

The success of Murray’s handbooks is also due to the well-known status of the “Murray brand,” which was developed by his grandfather John Murray I (1745–1793) and father, John Murray II (1778 – 27 June 1843), who published books by Jane Austen, Lord Byron, and Washington Irving. John Murray III’s position in the publishing industry allowed him to promote his handbooks and to readily recognize successful trends in publishing. For example, the red cover of the handbook on display (now partially faded) was a consistent feature among all of Murray’s various handbooks, making them a “uniform series” (François 83). This practice made Murray’s handbooks instantly recognizable, thereby aiding in the series’ popularity. The constant references to Murray’s travel-guide as “the red handbook” demonstrates the importance of this uniformity (Damien 24). Murray also recognized that many other travel-guides were critiqued for the partiality of their descriptions of cultural practices and art forms. In response, Murray attempted to appeal to a larger reading base by neutralizing the tone of his work and by an “abundant use of quotations” so that the editor seemed to remain “above all parties” (22). Despite these attempts, John Ruskin (one of Murray’s primary competitors) claimed that Murray’s handbooks were written through the “interpretive framework” of “modern English eyes” (24). Another important publishing tactic lies in the extensive and systematic nature of Murray’s tables of contents. These tables mapped out a vast array of information so that readers could plan their travels according to their own time-frames, budgets, and interests, whereas other earlier handbooks focused solely on the more narrow interests of the writer (François 77). In this way, Murray’s books offered a “complete system of guidance” for the traveler (Damien 19).

Despite the enormous success of Murray’s handbooks, many readers criticized the touristic practices they seemed to inspire. Critics claimed that the handbooks placed the tourist in a mediated position that created distance between the tourist and the region of travel. Charles Dickens, for example, often expressed this belief in his own travel handbooks, which showed that he was “more irritated than ever by the stipulated standards of taste, often almost institutionalized by the guidebook tradition” (McNees 220). This complaint, commonly aimed toward Murray’s handbooks, contributed to the Victorian tourist/traveler dichotomy. A tourist was commonly thought of as someone who only followed routes predetermined or elucidated in detail by a handbook, whereas the traveler purposely avoided the beaten track for a less mediated experience (McNees 211).

Readers of the Handbook personalized their texts, marking them with the memories of specific trips, as shown in various marginalia and writing found in this edition of the Handbook. For instance, a red line traces a path on the map of Central Norway, presumably tracking a reader’s own travels throughout the country. In addition, the owner collected and pressed plants in the book’s pages, as shown by the outlines of those plants on many pages. Although the nineteenth-century ownership of the text is unknown, the plants may have served as material objects representing the tourist’s experience of different countries and regions. Thus, the Handbook served not only as a guide for travel but also as an interactive text, a repository for objects collected on those travels, and thus as an object of remembering.  The book’s content offered advice for how to make memories, while its material properties—its hundreds of pages and strong binding—offered a method with which to preserve those memories, in the form of materials collected on those travels.

Find A Handbook for Travellers in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden in the UNT Libraries Catalog.