What is your favorite Literary Tourism site?


Mr DarcyA 12foot fiberglass statue of Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, inspired by the 1995 film version of Pride and Prejudice, will be housed at Lyme Park, Cheshire.

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.

Lovecraft
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.”

PaysdelaSagouineLe Pays de la Sagouine

 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?

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11 responses to “What is your favorite Literary Tourism site?

  1. Great topic! I have done my share of literary tourism including spending a whole week in Lyme Regis, inspired by John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (before the film), wandering the Cobb and hoping to catch a glimpse of Fowles himself. Members of my family live in James Herriot’s Yorkshire. And I was going to go to the Bronte house this summer but went to the Whitby coast instead. I went to live on the island of Corfu in my 20’s after reading Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell. In Canada, yes, Anne of Green Gables house and also Grand Pre, site of “Evangeline.”I can’t be in Halifax without thinking about Barometer Rising. I have accompanied classes of graduate students to Toronto for the Michael Ondaatje In the Skin of a Lion tour (we even went into the R.C. Harris water treatment plant) and to North Buxton, though Josiah Henson’s house was closed the day we were there. And next time I’m in B.C. I really want to go to Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach. Oh, I could go on, but I’ll let others tell their stories.

  2. I have visited Bronte house, “Orwell”‘s grave (Eric Blair), and poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey. I always think of Atwood novels when I am in the Annex or on the Toronto Islands, since that was my first experience of those places. Not quite tourism though.

  3. Clare Bermingham

    I fell in love with Savannah, Georgia when I first read Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and planned a few extra days of exploration when I finally had the chance to visit, courtesy of a conference. While there, I toured Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home, doubling the literary experience of the trip. Of course, I couldn’t walk the streets of Savannah or visit its numerous house-museums without reflecting on the immensity of slavery and recalling every slave narrative I’d ever read. How does one recognize and honour that history without reducing the experience to a form of “tourism”?

  4. Clare, there’s a whole book on Slavery and Thanatourism on my shelf if you are interested! It has an amazing chapter that surveys the literature for those big plantation houses and how few of them actually mention slavery in their tourist materials. (And it is in part what my contribution to our collection addresses–you guessed that, right?) Fraser, I remember friends and I mourned when By the Way Cafe on Bloor finally ditched the Lickin Chicken sign, b/c it was featured in an Atwood novel. I’m sure someone must have told them? Lady Eng Prof: I just have massive envy, that’s all.

  5. Gord Higginson

    Emily Carr’s lovely house in Victoria: http://www.emilycarr.com
    Al Purdy’s statue in Queen’s Park.
    And, locally, poet Peter McArthur’s log cabin at Doon Heritage Crossroads is a delight.

  6. The Anne house has been visited often in my family. I very recently made my first-ever pilgrimage to George Bernard Shaw’s house in Hertfordshire as part of a conference on Shaw. The caretakers allowed us to walk at will throughout the house–as long as we took off our shoes. Treading barefoot on the National Trust carpets seemed even more transgressive to me than tracking in a bit of dust from outside, but those were their rules 🙂 I also stood in the spot under the St. Paul’s church portico where Prof. Henry Higgins first encounters Eliza Doolittle, and the whole conference delegation was photographed in front of Shaw’s London home in Fitzroy Square (where the plaque on Shaw is just above the one about Virginia Woolf, who also lived there). I found walking around London oddly disconcerting–so much of it was familiar from the fiction and drama I adore that I frequently had an odd sensation that I was in a city constructed specifically to represent a fictional geography, like Avonlea. Prolonged Beaudrillard moments. And Lady Engish Prof, I’m with our blogger: major tourist envy!

  7. Nadine Gingrich

    I have to vote for Greece, especially Delphi. But just about anywhere in Greece is familiar from the myths and plays of the ancients–Olympus, Sparta, Crete, Corinth. Like Dorothy, I experienced those Baudrillard moments in all those places. And, like Clare, I went to Savannah because of Berendt’s book–loved it (the movie does it no justice, as is often the case).

  8. Ragbag list: Whitby; Amherst; Concord + surrounds; Dove cottage + surrounds; East Coker; Southwark.

  9. Gord Higginson

    Perhaps Prof.Harris could also do a book about literary tourists in literature, such as fictional characters visiting real literary sites. Let’s say, for example, Isabel Archer or Daisy Miller touring Dante-places in Florence, if that ever appeared in James…

    • Thanks for the suggestion Gord. But someone else will have to take that up–I do more literary history.
      Thanks to everyone else for the amazing suggestions. I’m crossing my fingers for Edith Wharton’s The Mount next summer.

  10. Pingback: Top Ten Words in Place Posts of 2013 |

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