Because I am at work on a volume on United States literary tourism (co-edited with Hilary Iris Lowe), I’m somewhat obsessed with it. For instance, yesterday I spent far too much time reading this piece, “50 Places every Literary Fan Should Visit.” Literary Tourism is nothing new: as Nicola Watson notes, as of the 1540s Petrarch’s home was already being transformed into a destination. However, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that literary tourism really took off as a recognizable subset of cultural tourism. The British Victorians liked to make pilgrimages to the graves of authors when they did their classic “Grand Tour”; the Americans liked to visit the graves and homes of Victorians; and everyone visited Shakespeare’s house (which probably wasn’t really his home, but that’s the way literary tourism often works). Meanwhile, with the rise of the novel, people began visiting places associated with the settings of their favorite fictions (okay, the Lake Poets did a fair bit for that district as well). This impulse continues today with Dan Brown-themed tours and the like, though the old sites have not been neglected. On the contrary, literary tourism has increased for the same reasons tourism has increased (economics, ease of travel, etc.). Digital literary tourism has even further upped the ante—no more so than when Google Street View recently mapped Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
Providence, RI house features in H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu.”
North American sites remain popular: Poe has a huge following, a whole book has been published about one fan’s visits to Little House on The Prairie sites, and Anne Trubek chronicled her travels to a wide range of such places in a best-selling work. Awareness of literary tourism continues to expand. Ottawa-based author Nigel Beale has established a website dedicated to the very idea—complete with blog and route planner! Our collection will cover everything from the operations and history to the politics and representation of sites through contributions from a variety of authors.
For reasons of scope (as well as our own expertise) our volume focuses on the US, not North America, despite the fact that Canada boasts one of the most well-known literary destinations in North America, Prince Edward Island, where Anne of Green Gables is more than a cottage industry. Having lived close to the bridge to PEI for almost a decade, I can testify to the ubiquity of “all things Anne” among summer visitors and tourists (we managed to resist—our only souvenir is an Anne of Green Gables shot glass, which is impressively large). Less well-known—among the English at least—is the New Brunswick site Le Pays de la Sagouine. This is a ridiculously popular theme park dedicated to a character from a play by Acadian author Antonine Maillet. Located in Bouctouche, the website describes it as “an eclectic reproduction of a prohibition-era fishing village. Discover the Acadian culture through unique characters.”
In the course of research we’ve managed to visit a number of different places, and I’ve generated a wish-list of even more. In case I’m missing any, I’ll throw it out to Words in Place readers: what are your favorite sites?