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A couple of years ago, on a visit to Kelmscott Manor—William Morris’s country home near Lechlade—I overhead a brief exchange between two men waiting for their tour group to assemble. “This is a nice place,” the first man observed. The second man replied, “Lovely. Not much parking, though.” The dissonance between the auratic appeal of a site like Kelmscott and the pragmatic demands of the twenty-first-century tourist drawn to such sites is probably familiar to us all. As Nicola Watson points out in the introduction to this edited collection, literary tourism—“the interconnected practices of visiting and marking sites associated with writers and their work” (2)—is far from an uncomplicated phenomenon, implicating the often-conflicting discursive practices of cultural heritage, mass tourism, biography, history, and literary criticism.
This volume explicitly seeks to address a perceived lack of critical attention to the practices of literary tourism. But, more contentiously, it attributes this lack of scholarship in the area to the “embarrassment of literary tourism” (5), due to the conflict between the “highbrow” associations and professionalism of literary studies and the mass appeal of modern tourism. The volume understandably focuses on the nineteenth century, the period in which the practice of visiting sites associated with writers became commercially significant. Readers not only increasingly wanted to visit the homes, birthplaces, and graves of favourite authors but also to traverse and experience landscapes that came to be indissolubly linked with particular writers (e.g., Burns’s Scotland,Dickens’s London, and,Hardy’s Wessex). The memorialization and accompanying commodification of writers’ lives was closely connected with place and landscape, a process that became even more pronounced in the twentieth century and shows no sign of withering in an era of mass travel, heritage tourism and television dramatizations. The essays included in this volume reflect cross-disciplinary interest in the topic but share a number of related concerns, such as the gendering of literary tourism, the invention of national identity, and issues of authenticity and genre.
To situate the volume historically, Harald Hendrix’s chapter traces the shift from early-modern memorial culture to Romantic literary tourism. Early-modern literary memorial culture was predominantly author-centred but also marked by a degree of ironic self-reflexivity. Hendrix offers the example of Petrarch’s mummified cat, recorded in most accounts of visits to Arquà from the end of the sixteenth century, which was variously an object of jest or the instigator of censorious comments, some of which were even inscribed on the marble slab surrounding the relic. Thus began a phenomenon of literary tourism that subsequent chapters (such as those by Foster and Booth) also record: “the opportunity to engage in this profane pilgrimage and yet simultaneously to criticize it” (17). By the mid-eighteenth century, however, literary pilgrimages were increasingly inspired by the fictions and their locations, not simply by the genius of the author. Rousseau’s Julie (1761) and Lake Geneva, for instance, like the association that would later emerge between Sir Walter Scott and the Scottish Highlands, fused the evocative allure of specific landscapes with the fictional worlds of the author’s texts.
Subsequent essays also address the topic of the writer’s house, arguably the key site in formations of literary tourism. As Julian North notes, the making of the poet’s house in nineteenth-century biography was a means by which the practice of literary tourism was encouraged, as the success of William Howitt’s Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets (1847) aptly demonstrated. But, as North also shows, the poet’s house became a contested space; Wordsworth, Coleridge and Browning all protested against the public’s desire for access to the writer’s domestic space. Nineteenth-century poets “used the writer’s house as a metaphor for threatened authorial autonomy” (North 51) and a means to critique what they regarded as a voyeuristic intrusion on their privacy that also encouraged a superficial, overly-biographical, reading of their works.
For some writers, however, the writer’s house was an opportunity to shape their own image, through emphasizing a particular view of the writer and his relationship to a specific landscape, as in the homes of James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving, both of whom had been profoundly influenced by visits to Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford (Hazard 68). In the case of Thomas Hardy, the construction of a geographical association with an author was a deliberate strategy due in part, Sara Haslam argues, to adverse critical reaction to his novels in the 1890s and a retrospective attempt to impose a unity and authority on his earlier novels through the concept of Wessex (most notably by his new prefaces and the inclusion of maps with re-issues of the Wessex novels).
The other crucial site in literary tourism is of course the writer’s grave which, as Samantha Matthews reminds us, tend to be “famously contested sites” (25). Unlike the writer’s house, the writer’s burial place has a peculiar intimacy and authenticity as the site most connected to the writer, through the proximity of the physical remains. Located within a landscape of death, however, the grave is also a troubling reminder of finitude and the limitations of literary genius. Matthew examines the many Victorian accounts of pilgrimages to the graves of Shelley and Keats (who himself had written “On Visiting the Tomb of Burns” after his pilgrimage to Burns’s country in 1818) in Rome’s Protestant Cemetery. In texts inspired by such graveside encounters, the dead poet could seem to authorize the creative utterance of the grave visitor: apparently apostrophizing the absent genius, such utterances were an expression of creative agency by a pilgrim moved by the affective experience of the cemetery. In this way, an ongoing relationship between the dead genius and the living pilgrim could be implicitly claimed.
As this volume attests, however, the fostering of literary tourism throughout the nineteenth century took a variety of forms besides graveside recollections or travel guides, utilizing the ever-expanding resources of Victorian print culture, as Margaret D. Stetz’s chapter demonstrates. As Stetz points out, even purchasing The Bookman magazine could be “an exercise in literary tourism,” offering to those readers uninitiated in metropolitan life “an immersion experience” in the literary world of London (120-1). The Bookman was more than a trade journal; Stetz argues that it prefigured the lifestyle magazine because “what it sold was entrée into a whole way of life centred upon the production and consumption of texts,” not least through profiles of the lifestyle of authorship (122). In the very first issue, an article called “Thomas Hardy’s Wessex” inaugurated a regular series on the homes and regions of authors, often featuring photographs which visualized the writer’s domain to readers and—at least implicitly—encouraged readers to visit sites associated with writers who were increasingly being represented through the lens of modern celebrity.
While many chapters are devoted to the usual suspects of literary tourism (Burns, Shakespeare, Wordsworth—although Austen is a notable absence), Nicola Watson’s contribution complicates the paradigm of literary tourism which most of the chapters outline—“the tour scripted by a single author’s works” (139)—by taking the example of literary London and the emergence in the mid-nineteenth century of the literary ramble as a suitable mode in which to encounter and appreciate the diversity of literary associations that the metropolis could offer. With such a wealth of literary anecdote on which to draw, the literary rambler was confronted with the potentially overlapping sites of Dickens’s London, Johnson’s London, or Shakespeare’s London, to name a few, and the increasing proliferation of maps, itineraries and guides for the literary tourist suggests both the possibilities and pitfalls of attempting to impose a coherent account of literary sites and associations onto heterogeneous metropolitan spaces.
It is an increasingly common feature of edited collections in the constrained circumstances of scholarly publishing in the twenty-first century to favour relatively short chapters in order to permit the inclusion of a larger number of essays and hence a greater range and diversity of topics. Not all the chapters included here, however, are of equivalent merit and too often the discussions of specific and fascinating examples are unduly abbreviated or abruptly curtailed at the end of chapters. This problem is exacerbated by a certain degree of repetition that inevitably seems to creep into such collections as contributors feels duty-bound to cover the same background and recount the premises of literary tourism in the nineteenth century. Some more ruthless editorial interventions here would have been welcome, especially as the editor’s introduction does such an admirable job of establishing the context and justification for such a volume. It is also most likely the enforced economies of current scholarly publishing that accounts for the absence of illustrations which would have been invaluable, especially for the essays that include detailed discussions of particular houses (such as those by Hazard, Thomas, and Westover).
Wendy Parkins is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Otago, New Zealand. She is the author of Mobility and Modernity in Women’s Novels, 1850s-1930s (Palgrave Macmillan) and is currently writing a book on representations of Jane Morris.