Shopping for Soap, Fudge and Biscuit Tins

John Pemble

  • The Literary Tourist by Nicola J. Watson
    Palgrave, 244 pp, £45.00, October 2006, ISBN 1 4039 9992 9

Literary tourism is naff. It means coach parties, blue plaques, monuments, the National Trust, Friends of this and that. It buys from Oxfam books like The Brontë Country, Dickens’s London, With Hardy in Dorset, Literary Bypaths of Old England, The Land of Scott. Academic libraries don’t cater for it, and academic critics have about as much regard for it as they have for Disney World or back numbers of Reader’s Digest. It’s been out of favour since at least the 1750s. The Reverend Francis Gastrell, who owned New Place, Shakespeare’s home in Stratford, was so incensed by tourists trespassing in his garden and knocking on his door that he first chopped down Shakespeare’s mulberry tree, then demolished the house itself. Influential opinion soon rallied round the cause of ‘heritage’, however, and buildings with literary connections were respected. Not so the visitors who paid to see them. First Coleridge and the Romantics, then Henry James and Virginia Woolf, then the New Critics of the 1930s, followed by Barthes, Derrida and the deconstructionists, have scolded literary tourists. ‘The author’s dead!’ they’ve told these vagrant supplicants again and again. ‘So go home, sit still and read the works!’

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