A Guide to The Literary Pilgrimage
Perhaps the most famous story about a pilgrimage is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and now literary tourism, a new form of secular pilgrimage, has now become an increasingly popular way of connecting readers with their favourite writers and authors.
The desire of tracing literature across towns, cities and even continents is a kind of secular pilgrimage to places where novels were penned, the authors’ birthplace, dwelling and in some cases, final resting places, or perhaps, to visit sites associated with the fictionalised spaces and world imagined by the author based on real geographies.
For bookworms, the only way to bring our experiences with a text into the real world is through a literary pilgrimage. The actual location may never replace the image in a reader’s mind, but the experience in a real space can lend concreteness to the text.Allison O’Toole
In a study of why tourists visited the ruins of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall — a site associated with Arthurian legend—Benjamin Earl found that many visitors sought to “maintain their cultural distinction and assert their cultural capital”.
The term cultural capital was coined in the 20th Century by Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, who theorised the reproduction of the social structures correlates to the habits of individuals and their capital. It was in this study that Bourdieu defined culture capital as the acquisition of social assets such as education, intellect, articulation articulate speech, style of dress, which as markers of a person’s socio-economic status, can promote the social mobility of a person in a society that is considerably stratified by social status and class.
When translated into the context of literary tourism, travelling to sites of literary history demonstrates an individual’s niche, literally knowledge and cultural taste.
But without getting too theoretical, literary pilgrimages should be fun and allows you, the reader or literature aficionado, the chance to experience the tangible world of your favourite character or book in the real world.
Reading fiction is always an act of collaboration between the reader and the story, and physical spaces can be read in the same way. These experiences can then become entwined with our ideas of the text itself, enriching our interpretation of it.Allison O’Toole
And if you’re not sure on where to go first, below are some ideas of cities in Europe to explore this summer with information on activities you can participate in to learn more about the area’s literary history.
Edinburgh which has been recently granted with UNESCO’s City of Literature status, has produced myriad talents down the years, including Robert Louis Stevenson author of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Ian Rankin who created the Inspector Rebus novels and Irvine Welsh author of Trainspotting.
Fun fact: JK Rowling lived in the Scottish capital as an up-and-coming writer and would conjure up stories about a boy wizard in the Elephant House cafe.
William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf are among the famous scribes to have flourished in the British capital.
Also, housed in the capital is Charles Dickens old Georgian terraced home (where he penned Oliver Twist), and the Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury is one of London’s best bibliophilic attractions.
London’s famous blue plaques link the people of the past with the buildings of the present. Now run by English Heritage, the London blue plaques scheme was started in 1866 and is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world.The English Heritage
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street was a favourite of Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr Samuel Johnson, while George Orwell author of Animal Farm and 1984 drank at the Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia.
Across the capital there are over 900 blue plaques, on buildings to mark their historical resident’s contributions to society.
Bram Stoker the author of Dracula, Jonathan Swift author of Gulliver’s Travelsand Samuel Beckett are just some of names the city of Dublin has produced. (All writers mentioned are lauded at the Dublin Writers’ Museum)
You can roam the photogenic grounds of Trinity College, where Dublin-born Oscar Wilde studied classics, and enjoy literary-inspired pub crawls that flavoured James Joyce‘s legendary books, Ulysses and The Dubliners.
In the ‘roaring 1920s’, Montparnasse was one of the French capital’s hippest quarters, its cheap rents luring a colourful cast of characters from home and abroad, including the ‘Lost Generation’ of American wordsmiths such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald.
In the district’s necropolis, you’ll find the tombs of French writer-philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Guy de Maupassant, and Charles Baudelaire. While Paris’ most-visited graveyard, Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise, is the resting place of Oscar Wilde.
Published in 1866, Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s epic was set in and around the canal-blessed backstreets of the so-called ‘Venice of the East’.
You can take a guided tour that reveals where the story’s protagonist, Raskolnikov, snuck around; visit a Dostoevsky museum (which occupies his former apartment) and see the author’s tombstone in the city’s evocative Alexander Nevsky cemetery.