What is Literary Tourism?

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Alfred and Emily Tennyson's summer home on the Surrey/Sussex border (from a sketch by Emily Tennyson)

Literary Tourism is tourism that deals with places and events from fictional texts as well as the lives of their authors. This could include following the route a fictional character charts in a novel, visiting particular settings from a story or tracking down the haunts of a novelist.

Literary tourists are specifically interested in how places have influenced writing and at the same time how writing has created place. In order to become a literary tourist you need little more than your favourite novel and an adventurous spirit. However, the search is complicated by the cult of personality. One of the earliest examples of tourism driven by a mixture of exceptional literary talent and national notoriety is the commercial packaging of the Isle of Wight as the home of Alfred Tennyson. Freshwater Bay, the setting of the Tennyson family home of Farringford, was placed firmly on the Isle of Wight tourist trail in the 1860s . Actually tourism began several decades before the Tennysons arrived on the island. The island's census return of 1831 had aready reported a 'continual influx of strangers... capitalists, bankers, professional and other educated men'. By the 1860s, the message about the outstanding beauties of the island had spread to 'the lower classes', and in1864 the Tennyson family took their summer holiday in France to escape the tourists at home, who were determined to catch Tennyson on one of his downland walks. In 1867 they began building a second summer residence on the heathlands of the Surrey/Sussex border, which were still difficult to access. Tennyson was 'flying from the Cockneys'.

Yet Tennyson was himself played his part in the promotion of literary tourism when he visited the peninsula, the-all-but-island of Sirmione, projecting into Lake Garda, He went there to pay homage to the Roman poet Catullus. Both its beautiful setting, and the accumulation of literary references since the Romans created their vast palace on its headland, have turned Sirmione into the honeypot that it is today with endless processions of tourists wandering to and from. His contribution is the hypnotic nine-liner Frater Ave Atque Vale.

Row us out from Desenzano, to our Sirmione row!
So they row'd, and there we landed- 'O venusta Sirmio!'
There to me thro' all the groves of olive in the summer glow,
There beneath the Roman ruin where the purple flowers grow,
Came that 'Ave atque Vale' of the Poet's hopeless woe,
Tenerest of theRoman poets nineteen hundred years ago,
'Frater Ave atque Vale' - as we wander'd to and fro
Gazing at the Lydian laughter of the Garda lake below
Sweet Catullus's all-but-island, olive-silvery Sirmio!

From those days, down the the industrialisation of tourism through the widespread impact of mass media, places had to be identified by a writer in order to start the publicity process. Now the difference is that authors are usually minimalist script writers for video presentations and/or lavishly illustrated holiday brochures. Their aim is to suppress the things we do not wish to see and maintain at all costs the things we most desire to see. This can lead to the tourists arriving at a destination where they are unable to place themselves geographically. For example, a cruise liner takes people to a prefabricated tropical beach surrounded by concrete and barbed wire with security guards. It is advertised as a Caribbean island. In reality it is a small bay rented by the shipping line on the unruly island of Haiti from which the tourists are protected.

AONBs are real landscapes with all the complexity of geology and human history contributing to their present state. Place and identity come together in an entity that John Butler-Adam has described as 'muscular land'.

'By landscape I certainly don’t mean the contested notion that relates to artifice and pretence the landscapes of Capability Brown and the ha ha. Instead I’m referring rather more literally to the muscular land…shaped on the one hand by forces of nature and given pattern by our cognitive processes; on the other, the land, as it is in turn fashioned by human intervention by digging, building, damming or cutting. This is the landscape of our common survival. It is the patterned environment all around us into which we insert ourselves and onto which we impose ourselves as we do what is necessary for our survival. Landscape is that which is formed and transformed as we build our dwellings, plough our fields, plant our groves of olives, herd and reherd our cattle, dump our piles of wrecked cars, create our game reserves or clean our beaches and then respond, in turn to what we have done.'

In the Isle of Wight AONB, at Farringford today, landscape and tourist can still interact in mutual occupancy of a place which Tennyson, above all a landscape poet, has defined through his writings. Physically he designed the garden and his poetry praises the interface between chalk downland and the encroaching sea.

Visiting an AONB is a selective and possibly elitist experience. Prior to the visit we first have to decide what facts we need to know and what others have created in their imagination. During the vist we may discover something new for ourselves. After the visit we have stored memories to dwell upon.

Memories are coded internally as DNA and externally as inscriptions on stone, paper, or electronic media, which may be recalled in the mind as mental pictures and passed on to others. We draw upon these stored memories when deciding where to live and where to go for our holidays.

Tennyson had experience of many European landcapes and after his marriage he had private wealth sufficient to choose to live where he liked. After trying out several environments from the Lake District to Sussex he chose to live immediately behind the sea-facing chalk downland on the Isle of Wight. To make this decision, all househunters, he went through a standard procedure of looking, remembering, comparing and finally accepting or rejecting Farringford. This is also what we do when we take any preferential viewpoint in the landscape. If the view is not right for us, we adjust our position and if it is still not right we move on. This is essentially a process of making boundaries between the good and the not so good, the stimulating and the interesting. Interacting with an AONB involves accepting the boundaries between the outstandingly beautiful and the ugly or commonplace, which were laid out by the group that defined the area.

Auden saw the these choices of landscapes as part of a search for pleasure which operated through a sense of selfhood, and suggested that we all carry landscapes in our memory for this purpose:

“Who is ever quite without his landscape, the struggling village street, the house and trees all near the church. Who cannot draw the map of his life, shade in the country station where he meets his love and says goodbye continually? Mark the spot where the body of his happiness was first discovered?”

We are defined by the landcapes we have remembered and to which we have attached deep feelings of like or dislike. In this sense our character and sensibility are qualified by the landcapes we have classified in this way, and in which experiences of growing up through play and the establishment of loving relationships have played a powerful part. From a general survey of his poems it can be established that Tennyson had strong positive feelings about the concept of ‘lawn’, which not only included gardens but also the open grassland of downs and the tropical glades of his imagination. This grassy concept also went along with the the way he often contrasted the wildness of uplands with the controlled arrangements of lowland, which he associated with fruitfulness, love and contented settlement.

What pleasure lives in height (the shepherd sang)
In height and cold, the splendour of the hills?
But cease to move so near the Heavens, and cease
To glide a sunbeam by the blasted Pine,
To sit a star upon the sparkling spire;
And come, for Love is of the valley, come,
For Love is of the valley, come thou down
And find him; by the happy threshold, he,
Or hand in hand with Plenty in the maize,
Or red with spirted purple of the vats,
Or foxlike in the vine; nor cares to walk
With Death and Morning on the silver horns,
Nor wilt thou snare him in the white ravine,
Nor find him dropt upon the firths of ice,
That huddling slant in furrow-cloven falls
To roll the torrent out of dusky doors:
But follow; let the torrent dance thee down
To find him in the valley; let the wild
Lean-headed Eagles yelp alone, and leave
The monstrous ledges there to slope, and spill
Their thousand wreaths of dangling water-smoke,
That like a broken purpose waste in air:
So waste not thou; but come; for all the vales
Await thee; azure pillars of the hearth
Arise to thee; the children call, and I
Thy shepherd pipe, and sweet is every sound,
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet;
Myriads of rivulets hurrying through the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.'

To endow landscapes with meaning such as this requires knowledge, which involves selecting and understanding the significant topographical elements and recalling other landcapes in the memory to make comparisons. For example, Renaissance gardens were essentially literary constructions. To get the most from a walk through the Medici's Boboli gardens in Florence required a reading Giambologna's great fountain statue of Oceanus, the world-river with the figures of the Ganges, Nile and Euphrates crouching beneath. On the political front landscapes can be self-consciously designed to express the virtues of a particular political or social community, ideas that can be shared through a collective memory of myths or events. The American poet Joel Barlow, was one of many who have invoked topography to give ruling ideas a natural form. Barlow sought the origins of the Liberty Tree in the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris's resurrection. He drew upon the hieroglyph coded obelisks which embodied memories of the Ancient Egyptians because he wanted to root the most important emblem of freedom in both the American and French revolutions within the primeval cult of nature. In attempting this he was following a long path of 'social memory'.

All our landscapes from the local park to an Andean mountain top are based on social memory and are really nothing more than imprinted tenacious inescapable obsessions. Wordsworth has the last words on the personal importance our obsessive memories of landscape beauty:

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
(Lines from the poem “Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey”)