November 13th, 2011

Harriet Vane

Literary pilgrimages: why can books and art and places mean so much to us?

Dear friends,

The world looked so pretty out my window this morning (the trees so heart-stoppingly colored) that I pined because I don't know how to transfer pictures from our camera onto the Net. I consoled myself with sharing the following written talk and memories of shared literary pilgrimages with you. 

The Castle of Chillon seen from a carriage window as

Daisy Miller and Mr Winterbourne ride away (Bogdonavich's Daisy Miller)

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend on Trollope19thCStudies which I want to share here. I put a short review of a book on that listserv, he responded to the review and I replied as follows:

First the review:

Literary Tourism and Nineteenth-Century Culture, edited by Nicola. Watson; pp. xi + 230. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, £50.00,$80.00.

In the course of the nineteenth century, the Ayrshire cottage in which
Robert Burns first saw the light of day on 25 January 1759 became an
internationally renowned tourist destination attracting visitors from all
over the British Isles, North America, and Europe. Its prominence was
enhanced by tie-in publications including the richly illus­trated Land of
Burns (1840), the Homes and Haunts of Robert Burns (1886), and a slew of
memoirs and poems evoking particular visits. Along with Burns's poems,
these supple­mentary texts offered imaginative access to the many locations
associated with the man and his work and hence provided both an itinerary
and an annotated guide for enthu­siastic readers wanting to prolong their
reading pleasure and reenact their enthusiasm for the poet by making a
pilgrimage (a term often used) to the places where he lived or that he had

Although Burns (alongside Walter Scott and Shakespeare) certainly offered
one of the more popular destinations to the would-be literary pilgrim, the
emergence of his "homes and haunts" as a travel destination was not an
isolated phenomenon. It was part of more widespread cultural developments
related to the emergence of organ­ised tourism and to the particular role
played by writers in the nineteenth century in shaping both personal and
collective identities. Crucially, it was also part of a thor­ough-going
materialisation of literary practices: both writing and reading were
extended into the active cultivation of houses, graves, and other
locations, and into the embodied action of readers who were prepared to go
great distances to visit them. Given the traditional focus of literary
scholarship on the reinterpretation of original works of literature and, to
the extent that there has been interest in reception, on crit­ical
evaluations and sales figures, it is not surprising that these
materialising appropria­tions have been largely overlooked or, if noticed
at all, dismissed as a form of cultural pathology.

Luckily several recent publications have proved both the importance of
literary tourism as a cultural phenomenon and the interest of studying it.
These include Samantha Matthew's Poetical Remains (2004) on the cultural
significance of writers' graves, Harald Hendrix's edited collection
Writers' Houses and the Making of Memory (2007) on the cultural
significance of literary dwellings, and Nicola J. Watson's The Litemry
Tourist (2006) on dwellings and the interrelation between tourism and the
fictional geographies evoked by writers. The present collection of essays,
edited and introduced by Watson and covering some of the same ground as her
earlier work, contributes to this growing body of know 1­edge. It takes the
form of eighteen brief studies, generally focused on Anglo-American writers
and tourists, and ranging from the invention of the "land of Burns" (Karyn
Wilson-Costa) and the restoration of Stratford (Julia Thomas); to the
importance of references from English poetry in the production of John
Murray's travel guides to conti­nental Europe (Barbara Schaff); to the
interplay between writing and the promotion of certain tourist locations in
the work of Elizabeth Gaskell (Pamela Corpron Parker), Thomas Hardy (Sara
Haslam), and Harriet Beecher Stowe (Diane Roberts); to the appro­priations
in the United States of British practices (Paul Westover); and the
pre-history of romantic tourism (Hendrix). Given the number and brevity of
the individual contribu­tions along with the variety of topics discussed,
it is not surprising that there is some unevenness in focus and analytic
power (a couple of essays tend to the anecdotal and descriptive). The
overall result is, nevertheless, much valuable insight into the
develop­ment of particular tourist sites and the impact of imagined
geographies on actual spatial practices; on the interactions between
literature and a nascent tourist industry; on the cultural and personal
traffic between North America and the British Isles; and, above all, on the
ways in which the passion for literature on the part of financially
empowered middle-class readers translated into a touristic practice that
characteristically combined awe for achievement with a desire for intimacy
within a domestic setting.

Taken together the essays also beg a number of questions, beginning with
the historical specificity of the practices described. While a number of
contributors confidently assume that nineteenth-century tourism established
patterns and modali­ties that are still viable today, there is little
reason to believe that this is the case-as far as literary tourism is
concerned. Striking in this regard is the addition of a final essay by
Linda Stiebel on a recent Rider Haggard trail in Durban, South Africa,
whose purpose is "to foster a 'new literacy' for a new generation of
readers" (216). However laudable, this project is far removed from the
world in which people went as pilgrims to places with the memory of poems,
plays, and stories in their heads, and in which literature was both a main
point of access to gentility and a mai n source of mediated pleasures. Now
that so much fascinating material relating to literary tourism in the
nineteenth century is emerging, hopefully future publications will be able
to address in a concerted way its place within broader developments in the
field of tourism and in the production of heritage and identities. After
all, literary tourism emerged parallel to the erection of the many public
monuments to national writers in cities across the western world. One of
the particularly intriguing questions raised by this collection, but not
yet answered, is how reading and its extension into tourism helped create
subjectivities that combined intimate pleasures with the sense of belonging
to a collective; to a collective, moreover, that thanks to literature, was
as much transnational as local in character.

Utrecht UniversSity

Then Tyler's comment:

Interesting post, Ellen.

When I still taught, my students used to ask me if I ever did anything
on my vacations other than visit literary shines since I was always
showing them photos of Wordsworth's Cottage or Emerson's house.

Another interesting text is Louisa May Alcott's "Jo's Boys" where Jo has
now become a famous writer and is constantly hounded by people coming to
her house to get their books signed and at least one woman says they're
there to see all the authors - meaning Concord, MA must have been a
place to make literary visits while Alcott, Emerson, etc. were living
there. I myself would not think to go to the house of someone who was
living and disturb them. That said, because I write local novels about
the area, I've had people show up at my house unannounced on a couple of
occasions who wanted to talk to me about my books. Privacy issues must
have started to deteriorate with the rise of the popular author.

To which I replied:

Thank you for the comment, Tyler. I actually disagree with Ann Rigney in the sense that it's been about 10 or more years now that this aspect of literary tourism has been a fashionable topic.  From a book called _Janeites_ edited by Lynch (so not on the specific author so much as her fan clubs who derive cultural identities from their imagined communities) to the kind of wide reaching book, Stefan Collini's _English Pasts_ (with essays on sites de memoires), critics nowadays write far more about travel and what readers read for than the textual analysis that used to dominate the academy. I seem to come across versions of this perspective all the time :) It does derive from interest in popular readerships and popular books (why are they popular?). One of my reviews, on a book on Bath was all about this because the book was all about "The Image of Georgian Bath" more than it was about the reality -- though the author told the reality in order to show how popular readerships stubbornly cling to their bogus histories:

I've taken such pilgrimages myself -- to Bath "in the steps of Jane Austen," with a few friends (no longer here that I know) to Trollope's grave, to the houses said to be the inspiration for the Barchester series, to Salisbury Cathedrale, once with John Letts to the house Trollope rented in 1882.  Maybe though for me the subjectivity Rigney thinks some readers seek is more for me to be found in going to a rare book room in the library and actually handling the manuscript of the author. I've done that a few times too: see the handwriting of Ann Finch, Samuel Richardson.

I agree that we seem to invade one another's privacy more easily nowadays, but I'm not sure we do. There was an insightful essay by Jenny Diski on how our ideas about what is private and what people try to keep from one another and don't care about exposing to one another have got to be revised by our experience of behavior on the Net and also behavior of people phoning intimate friends in public (as cell phones apparently lead people to).  It was in the LRB and about a collection of essays but I can no longer remember the title. I do recall she said we have been fooling ourselves about what we thought people care about, what they want to hide; and that we have also to take into account individual sensibilities far more than we often do. We generalize too much.  If some or many people then often hid things they seem not to today it was because they had no means of communicating it generally, no press available such as say a listserv or blog or facebook or twitter or .... cell and iphones all provide. If you look back into the 19th century you do find people invading the privacy of authors: Trollope makes bawdy fun of this in his story, "The Relics"

But make fun as he wishes, it was a great pleasure to me and a student when a few years after teaching a class where we did "The Prisoner of Chillon," that student came to visit me in my office with a stack of photos he took when he visited the prison; he took them in order to share them with me.  And what else is the heart of Bogdanovich's Daisy Miller but a return to Chillon (which James's text does encourage) ..

Why do some of us so love these nostalgic film adaptations?  why can the heritage industry make so much money? when the admiral and I have rented a Landmark Trust 15th century gatehouse we dream we are entering some realm of immortal dreamed history where our existences are lifted into some meaningful relationship with that of others and their understanding, which we value.

Daisy and Mr Giovanelli walking in the forum (Bogdanovich's Daisy Miller) where she catches malaria and thus her death.

Cheers to you, Tyler,