The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Literary Tourism

I was reading an interesting article this week on Arts and Letters Daily about Literary Tourism (you can read the article here). The article explores the notion of how many of us, in these times where organised and fervent religion has taken a back seat in many Western peoples lives, and replaced religious pilgrimage with other types of devotion. Are these trips taken in the pursuit of the spiritual experience, a pure encounter with a place connected to a book or author, in the hope that it will bring on a deeper connection with the writers we love? The article also comments on how some literary landmarks have almost become theme parks as some organisers seek to profit from this need, and also to re create what they think the tourists want.
Anyway, it got me thinking, do I do that? Do I seek places that are connected to authors or books that I love? If so, what drives me and is there anything wrong with it?
I set about listing the places I had visited with a literary connection...
Whitby on the Yorkshire Coast, famous for being part of the setting for Bram Stokers Dracula. I had read the book but was going anyway because some of my friends live in York and its a nice town to stay. I spent New Year there in 2002.
Wordsworths Grave in Grasmere, as I was passing through it seemed rude not to visit, and my friend knew where it was.
Haworth, Bronte country, again I was passing through. I'd like to visit again to have a look properly.
The Globe in London, I visited as part of my Shakespeare year for my degree and had a brilliant day there. Surprisingly (for a Shakespeare fan), I've never been to Stratford. I always feel that I'll get there someday and I wonder if that has become a bit of a Shakespeare theme park.
Highgate Cemetery in London, a great cemetery to visit because of its Victorian opulence in an overgrown, ramshackle and highly atmospheric park. George Eliot is here as well as Charles Dickens' sister. There are lots of other famous burials here too.
Shropshire, Mary Webb country, my favourite author. I have been on holiday in this beautiful county more than once and did actively seek out the magical settings that crop up in so many of her novels...The Stiper Stones, The Long Mynd, as well as villages where Mary Webb had lived. I even bought a book (listed below). Proper literary tourist here!
Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, one of my favourite places in the world. I have been here at least 4 times and taken other people too. I should be on commission. There are loads of writers, artists, philosophers and curiosities here, including Moliere, Oscar Wilde and Abelard and Heloise, and the link gives you the full list. I go mainly because I love graveyards and this one has loads to interest you in a very atmospheric setting.
The Pantheon in Paris is where Victor Hugo and Emile Zola are buried. I had just read Germinal when I first visited so it was the literary link that determined the visit, although that part of Paris is one of my favourite areas. I found it very moving to think of the miners lining the route to the Pantheon, shouting 'Germinal' as Zola's coffin passed.
Les Trois Garcons in Aix en Provence, the cafe and bar where Zola, Picasso and Cezanne used to meet and talk. This was an incidental encounter but I still stopped to have a drink.
The Four Cats Restaurant in Barcelona, a beautiful place to eat, famous for being where Picasso and the artists and writers of the day used to gather. It is also mentioned in The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It really is an experience!
The house where Keats died in Rome, next to the Spanish Steps. It has been turned into a museum about the Romantic poets because I think Percy Byshe Shelley and Mary Shelley also stayed here. It was a chance encounter but the literary connection drew me in.
On top of this I also own 3 books...
Literary Landscapes of the British Isles by David Daiches and John Flower
Walks with Writers (in Shropshire) by Gordon Dickens and Gladys Mary Coles
Novel Destinations (pictured above) by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and John Rendon. A present from a friend.
So I guess I can be a bit of a literary tourist but a lot of the places have been incidental. It has been mainly curiosity that has been the reason to want to see these places, and being in the vicinity anyway. I like reliving my favourite books by seeing somwhere or something that gives me another aspect. I don't expect a mysterious enlightened moment, and I don't have a tick list of places, but I see nothing wrong with using a literary connection as a motivation to get out and see something and maybe even learn something or inspire a moment of appreciatiation. There will always be people who want to cash in on these ventures, people need to make a living, and it is up to the individual to decide if they think they are being ripped off.
Where have you been to with a literary connection, and was it a deliberate or a chance encounter?


Holly said...

Terrific thoughts. I really want to go to England and see Shakespeare's country in Stratford and Jane Austen's. I've been to Italy and seen much of Michelangelo's work and where he lived, not that that is literary!

I'd love to go back to Concord, MA and see Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott lived. Oh, and Mansfield, MO, where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived!

lunarossa said...

I too love to go around locations that have a literary connection. When I first moved to England I spent most of my free time visiting places connected to Jane Austen's and Bronte's novels and lives. Ciao. A.

Anonymous said...

I just got a copy of Novel Destinations, signed by the authors, while at Book Expo America last month. It looks like a really fun read.
Love your name, btw. My oldest is Leah too! - Stephanie

NigelBeale said...

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