Placing the author: the literary tourist

Updates: Literary footprints, running from 8-25 Oct, offers over 40 walks on the theme of London’s literary heritage. Lots of Bloomsbury and Dickens, plus a fair amount of readings…on R4’s Open Book on 19 Nov “literary anoraks” Paul Farley,  former writer in residence at Dove Cottage, and Frank Barrett, author of Treasured island and travel editor of the Mail on Sunday, discussed literary tourism as offering a different perspective on a writer and as an enriching experience. Virginia Woolf may have found such journeys sentimental, but that didn’t stop her from undertaking some of her own…Defining Digital Dickens (not tourism, but new ways of engaging with classic lit)…Paul Scraton on (literary) tourism and sites of memory, and not least, Stefan Zweig (trans. Will Stone)…Travel, landscape and the Bronte legacyAnne Klara Bom ( on the literary icon city (affective practice | authenticity)…a home for Seamus HeaneyThe lives of houses (post), event from the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing…

#flhouselit is running again from 29 June. On a slightly different tack is Placing the author (abstracts | reflections | more reflections@placingauthor), a conference on literary tourism in the 19th century (and today), which took place in Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester on 20 June. The conference blog has a post on Imaginary tourism, with students at a university in Florida mapping places and journeys in five novels and exploring one place in depth – see Wuthering Heights, the North Kent Marshes from Great Expectations, the London Streets in The Moonstone and  Thomas Hardy’s Stonehenge. Lovely. See also The Postcard Project (map), accounts of visits to sites such as birthplaces, residences, gravesites, monuments, museums and blue plaques:

To take part in the project, all you need to do is to send us a photo, telling us when and where the photo was taken, why you went (max 100 words) and what you got out of the experience (max 150 words).

See a visit to Freud’s house in Hampstead, Elena’s postcard from Prague, Poets’ Walk in the Hudson River Valley and Lucy’s postcard from Abbotsford, plus the Guardian gallery from Nick Channer’s Writers’ houses, random post on Kafka’s death house

Go on then…as a dedicated literary, or perhaps rather cultural, tourist I’ve loads to pick from, but let’s go for Trieste.

Why I went…

A fan of borders and edges (and the Austro-Hungarian Empire), I’ve had Trieste on my bucket list for years. In her book Trieste and the meaning of nowhere Jan Morris comments: “People who have never been there generally don’t know where it is…Visitors tend to leave puzzled and remember it with a vague sense of mystery”. Last autumn I finally made it, in a journey also taking in Venice, a popular magnet for literary tourists throughout history. Trieste, temporary home of Casanova and Rilke and locus of Claudio Magris, is rather less familiar and hence all the more fascinating.

What I got out of the experience…

Described by Morris as “a loitering kind of place”, Trieste is perfect for drifting. James Joyce, for me rather more accessible via his places than his writing, lived in Trieste’s seediest quarter from 1904-20, teaching English to businessman and novelist Italo Svevo, the model for Ulysses’ Leopold Bloom. Commemorated in life size bronze statues and plaques around the city, Jim and Italo share a museum in a hidden corner of a palatial building next to the central library. Despite arriving at closing time Claudio the curator was unperturbed, happily relating tales from both writers’ lives, such as Italo’s stay in Charlton from 1903-13, where he worked as representative and manager for the in-laws’ paint firm. The lives of Joyce and Svevo, plus those of two other Triestine writers commemorated in sepia tinted leaflets, represent the changing identity of the city in a nutshell, and, perhaps, of Europe. Unforgettable.

Onward…Denmark’s big hitters are Hans Christian Andersen, Karen Blixen and Hamlet, but let’s hear it for Nexø’s House on Bornholm. See also the Writing places project, “celebrating the rich literary heritage of the South West, Nicola Watson’s Literary tourism and 19th century culture (and blog post on dogs of genius) and Nigel Beale’s Literary Tourist, “a travel planner for book lovers”.


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