Literary Tourism

Tourism with regard to literature is one of the oldest forms of media tourism. One of the earliest accounts of literary tourism is said to be connected to the writings of Petrarch in the south of Europe during the fifteenth century. In the centuries which followed, literature continued to play a central role in both instigating and directing literary pilgrimages and tours – mainly by and for the English elite who were undertaking their Grand Tour of continental Europe as a ‘rite of passage’ to return to home enriched with experiences and knowledge of the cultural elites of France and Italy.

These earlier forms of tourism are based on distinctively non-fictional narratives – philosophical, religious, travel accounts – and are fundamentally different from more modern accounts of literary tourism. Located in the beginning of the nineteenth century, literary tourists were going in search of the locations of popular novels. At first, they were mainly interested in birthplaces, residences and graves of the writers, but over time, the locations of the fictional stories themselves became the focus of attention. This way, whole regions came to be synonymous with specific authors and their works, as in the case of Shakespeare’s Stratford and Brontë’s Haworth. Even today, literary locations hold a strong attraction. Not only do popular novels still lead to significant tourist streams, but of the films that prompt tourism, a substantial number are adaptations of literary works.

In spite of the continuing popularity of literary tourism and its rich history, relatively little attention has been paid to this phenomenon in the academic literature. Recently, this has been changing and various studies of literary tourism have emerged. However, there are still two significant gaps in this research domain. Firstly, the focus lies predominantly on British authors and novels from the nineteenth century. Little has been written about present-day forms of literary tourism one the one hand, and non-British instances of literary tourism on the other. Secondly, nearly all the studies are based on textual analysis: interpretation of literary texts themselves or of ‘secondary texts’, such as biographies, travelogues and guidebooks. Ethnographic research barely exists, the result of which is that little is known about the meanings attached to engaging in literary tourism by the people who are actively involved in it, such as tourists, residents, local (cultural and/or commercial) organizations and tourism bureaus.

The multi-method and interdisciplinary approach adopted in this project promises to fill that gap. By scrutinizing contemporary examples of literary tourism and by combining textual analyses of the novels with ethnographic fieldwork conducted among tourists, local administrators, museums, writers and residents, a unique and varied perspective on present-day forms of literary tourism will be created.

Nicky van Es