We ran a pensioners' coach trip to Stratford last week. One of the travellers told me today, "It was lovely seeing Shakespeare's grave". Meanwhile I'm reading John Pemble in this week's LRB saying, '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 Bronte 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. ... 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!'I doubt that will convince our pensioners not to take off again, perhaps to Haworth next time, or Dove Cottage. Don't tell them, but I'm with John Pemble in his critique of 'soap, fudge and biscuit tin' tourism; but I'd still go for some literary tourism myself: the Laugharne trail is one I'd like to make. And my M62 walk might be regarded as a sort of aberrant Iain Sinclair homage.
Considering then that one-thirds of my journey will actually be static, sat at a table in a County Antrim tower, writing up the previous months' experiences, I was taken by an insight of Premble's regarding the root nature of literary tourism:
It's all about books and journeys, after all, and the Book and the Journey are powerful religious archetypes. But Christianity has traditionally been divided over which takes precedence. On the one hand, there's Catholic piety, which popularises the Journey over the Book; on the other, Protestant piety, which popularises the Book over the Journey. In the literary tourist, heading for a writer's birthplace with a biography in his luggage, it's easy to spot the Catholic pilgrim, led by hagiography to the shrine of a saint. And it's just as easy to spot the Protestant pilgrim, whose destination is Jerusalem, in the travel writer, who expounds the eucharistic mystery of place.So ... two months pilgrimage, one month reintegrating with the word. I step out in a catholic spirit but seemingly cannot escape the clutches of my protestant heart.