The Traveller’s Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands, 1950
A Time to Keep Silence, 1953
Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, 1958
Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece, 1966
A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople, from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, 1977
Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople, the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, 1986
Three Letters from the Andes, 1992
The Violins of Saint-Jacques: A Tale of the Antilles, 1953
Forever Ulysses, 1938 (of C. P. Rodocanachi’s novel)
Julie de Carneilhan and Chance Acquaintances, 1952 (of Colette’s novels; bound with Roger Senhouse’s translation of Gigi)
The Cretan Runner, 1955 (of George Psychoundakis’s book)
Patrick Leigh Fermor (FUR-mawr), highly regarded as a travel writer, was born in London, England, in 1915. His school career was unsettled. Bright but unconstrained, he was asked to leave or was expelled from the regular schools he attended. He read widely with a tutor in London. At the age of eighteen he left school and set off on a walk across Europe, from Holland to Constantinople. This journey, commenced in December, 1933, took a year and a half and carried him across Germany and the Balkans at a time when World War II was gathering. He wandered and traveled widely throughout the Balkans and Greece during the late 1930’s and acquired a lifelong love of remote places and language.
In 1939 Fermor joined the Irish Guards. During World War II he was stationed in Albania, Greece, and Crete. The most notable part of his military career was two years when he lived in occupied Crete disguised as a shepherd in the mountains; he helped organize the resistance. He took part in the daring kidnap of General Karl Kreipe, the commanding officer of the German garrison in Crete. For his heroic war exploits, Fermor was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1943 and the Distinguished Service Order in 1944.
After the war Fermor traveled in the West Indies and then settled in Greece. He published The Traveller’s Tree, about the West Indies, which won two literary prizes, and A Time to Keep Silence, about his experiences in French and German monasteries. Mani, about the rugged southern Peloponnese peninsula of Greece, also won literary prizes and is considered by some to be his finest book. It was followed by a sequel, Roumeli.
The first volume of memoirs of his walk across Europe, A Time of Gifts, published in 1977, won literary prizes as well. This volume and its companion, Between the Woods and the Water, written many years after the journey from his notes and journals, are a record of a way of life that vanished soon after. Fermor recognized that he had witnessed the end of an era. These two books are remarkable for their record of remote regions and societies that would soon be changed forever.
Fermor designed and built a house in remote Kardamyli in Greece, where he settled with his wife. A member of the Athens Academy, he was part of a loose group of itinerant expatriate writers that included major writers on Greece, among them Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller. With his active, unconventional life and his literary reputation and prizes, Fermor keeps a foot in the conventionally opposed camps of the active and the intellectual. He is a great stylist of the travel book. He adds detail to fascinating detail in an intimate, informal style that engages the reader as a companion on the journey.
While he describes adventure after adventure, his tone remains scholarly. In one example from A Time of Gifts, Fermor describes how he passes the time on the lonely, snowy road by reciting aloud from memory. Then he casually lists four pages of works he has memorized, from the Greek and Latin classics to Shakespeare through centuries of English and French poetry.
His enthusiasm for his subjects and for the freedom of travel is evident as well. Following in the literary tradition of travel writing, which includes William Hazlitt’s “On Going a Journey” (1822) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévannes (1879), “An Apology for Idlers,” and “Walking Tours,” Fermor extols the glories of leisure and freedom from responsibility. The freedom of travel and the joys of the road free the imagination for thought and art. The exterior journey is paralleled by an interior journey, a quest for meaning and direction. Fermor, a self-educated man of action, exuberantly expresses his conclusion that life is for living. Moreover, the literary prizes won by the books recognize their art. The language, lyrical and complex, approximates poetry at times. Like the best examples of the travel genre, Fermor’s books intertwine observations on art, landscape, history, economics, current events, literature, civilizations, and culture.
The process of writing such complex books has been painstaking for Fermor. Over a writing career of more than forty-five years, he has produced a relatively small body of work. The shortest period between any two of his four major books is eight years. The record of his walk to Constantinople has stretched over decades, with publication of A Time of Gifts in 1977 and Between the Woods and the Water in 1986 and work begun on a projected third and concluding volume.