Placing the Author: Reflections Part I

By Emily Bowles, University of York
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House Exterior Credit: Jill Jennings

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House Exterior Copyright: Jill Jennings

Placing the Author: Literary Tourism in the Long Nineteenth Century took place on 20 June 2015 in the wonderfully appropriate venue of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester, a site that has been beautifully restored and was newly opened to the public at the end of 2014. The conference welcomed attendees from around the world, from undergraduates and postgraduates to senior academics and those working in the heritage sector. Throughout the day, the house itself formed the basis of discussions about what is important when it comes to literary tourism and how houses should be preserved and presented, providing a unique backdrop to the event.

The conference opened with Professor Helen Rees Leahy (University of Manchester) exploring authenticity and imagination at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, giving attendees the opportunity to consider the conference setting against the themes that recurred throughout the day: questions of gender and authenticity; how the interior life of the writer and the nature of the ‘tourist’ site are key to our interpretation of literary places; and the process by which certain houses become sites of literary pilgrimage. These themes were explored further during the morning’s parallel panels, the first exploring tourism networks in Italy and the second the ways in which authors and, later, their families, shaped their own legacies.

Following lunch in the Elizabeth Gaskell House tearoom and the chance to discover the exhibitions and objects of the house, ‘The Brontës at home’ panel saw four papers examining different aspects of the Brontës’ legacy, from relics in Kimberley Braxton’s (Keele University) paper on the cultural, economical and spiritual power of the Brontë relics to Dr Amber Regis’s (University of Sheffield) exploration of the ‘fantasied’ parsonage in Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë. The facilitating of discussions and networking between senior academics, postgraduates and even the undergraduate conference assistants was one of this event’s key strengths, as postgraduate presenters were able to share their ideas and research with a diverse and engaged group of scholars and practitioners to gain a new perspective. The setting also encouraged new researchers to think about how their work connects to the heritage and museum sector, and opened up the possibility for future collaborations.

The tearoom at Elizabeth Gaskell's House

The tearoom at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

The final set of parallel panels widened the thematic debates to include not only tourism relating to Victorian authors, but also nineteenth-century visits to Shakespeare’s house and visits to Victorian sites today in a panel on ‘(Re-)visiting the past’.  In ‘The Business of Literary Tourism’ the discussion centred on the creation, classification and maintenance of sites, from Dr Gillian Hughes’s (Visiting Scholar, University of Edinburgh) paper on the problem of locating James Hogg as a working-class author to Associate Professor Sue Carson’s (Queensland University of Technology) examination of the problems facing Coleridge’s Lime Street cottage. The day ended with an inspiring keynote from Professor Nicola J. Watson (Open University) on ways of animating the author, focused in part on objects and displays in Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. Once again, the venue formed a key part of discussions about the nature of literary tourism and attendees were encouraged to apply their research in a practical way.

Just as the process of literary tourism starts before the reader visits the literary site, the Placing the Author project had been growing and developing before the conference opened on 20 June. The organisers, Dr Amber Pouliot (Bishop Grosseteste University), Dr Claire Wood (University of York), and Joanna Taylor (Keele University) had set up ‘The Postcard Project’ to find out more about literary tourism practices today. During each conference break, attendees were encouraged to discuss different topics and interact with the postcard map, adding questions about approaches to literary pilgrimage based on the responses to the project. This formed the starting point for a closing discussion over wine about the kinds of things that still draw us to tourist sites and the future of the industry. The Postcard Project is ongoing, and will continue to show the fascinating trends emerging in the way literary tourism is thought about today.

The Placing the Author conference is hopefully the start of an exciting conversation about literary tourism that includes figures like Gaskell, the Brontës and Dickens, but also lesser-known figures and sites. I would like to thank the organisers for putting together such an inspiring day, and moulding the traditional conference format in a way that brought together undergraduates, postgraduates, senior academic staff, the museum and heritage sector and others, for engaging and open discussions about the future of literary tourism.


Tailing the Scholar Gypsy: Mapping Matthew Arnold’s First North American Lecture Tour

By Shannon N. Gilstrap, Ph.D. (Associate Professor: English, University of North Georgia)

In the home office of one of my closest friends hangs a picture I have envied for years. In the black and white print, a hand touches a softly focused page of elegant handwriting. “Is that your hand?” I remember asking him upon first seeing it. “What are you touching?”

Arnold Smiling“It’s one of Newman’s letters,” he answered, “one wherein he writes that he holds no hatred for Kingsley.” Then he flashed a conspiratorial smile I have since come to know well. “I was at the Oratory in Birmingham. I put my hands on everything!” he laughed.

I share that drive to touch Victoriana. As an American Victorianist, I sometimes feel disconnected from the writers I love; as a scholar, I even sometimes feel disadvantaged here on the other side of “the pond,” away from the walks and sights and items the Victorians knew. I am particularly fond of Matthew Arnold, and daydreaming one afternoon about my ideal Arnold pilgrimage – visiting Laleham, Balliol College at Oxford, Thun in Switzerland, Fox How – I stumbled over a forgotten fact:

Arnold came to America – twice!

Connecting with the Victorian I most admired through a literary pilgrimage and touching his life were close at hand, right here in America. Following and mapping Arnold’s tour through North America has come to fulfil an emotional need in me as much as it, hopefully, contributes to Victorian scholarship. Please visit these places with me as you read:

You can also access the map here:

Visiting these sites, photographing them as they currently appear and finding archival images of the sites as Arnold would have seen them, elicits several feelings in me. At some places Arnold becomes more human for me, as when I saw the guest room and bed at the Emerson House in which Arnold must have stayed when he lectured in Concord, MA. The bed and a bell-pull were there, and I looked out of the same window and tried to imagine the view Arnold would have had the morning he left on December 13, 1883.

Other times I am overwhelmed standing where he stood, looking across grand rooms, little changed in the 130 years that have filled the space between Arnold’s presence there and mine. I could feel Arnold’s memory had not faded from some places, like at Harvard’s Sanders Theater, standing amidst the silence and polished wood of that space, knowing many of his manuscripts were housed across the Yard. In other places, though, I felt I was ushering Arnold’s memory back into a space that, although not changed much, had in the lapse of years forgotten he had been there. I felt that I was personally welcoming him back. I felt this when I stood on the stage of hushed Tremont Temple in Boston, MA, and looked out over some of the same seats that held Arnold’s audience; likewise when I stole into the Friends’ Meeting House on the campus of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and stood in the cozy silence, facing its mute wooden pews.

“Who was it you said spoke here?” I heard many times, such as in the sanctuary in Second Presbyterian Church, now Nassau Christian Center, in Princeton, NJ.

“Matthew Arnold,” I replied, and got the feeling that the name had not been spoken there with the same significance I was bringing with it in years.

The Second Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, where Arnold gave a lecture entitled 'Literature and Science' on 11/20/1883.

The Second Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, where Arnold gave a lecture entitled ‘Literature and Science’ on 11/20/1883.

Another powerful feeling came when I was faced with an absence of a place. Many of the sites that were such important community centers when Arnold visited America no longer exist. I felt this resurrection of place and memory for example when, in Cambridge, MA, the Cambridge Historical Society archivist helped me locate pictures of Union Hall. Together we pored over an historic street atlas and found the exact location of this old structure; when I arrived, the location was literally an empty space but, for me at least, it was filled with significance when I visited it.

But not all the spaces are victims of bulldozers & rapid change. At Wellesley College, for instance, I stood in front of a memorial constructed from the only remaining columns of College Hall, which burned in 1914. However, with the archivist Jane A. Callahan’s help, I found a photograph of the room, the Chapel, in which Arnold gave a lecture to an enthusiastic audience of young women. The juxtaposition of these two pictures helped make Arnold’s lecture there in a structure that no longer exists, a bit more tangible.

Throughout all these trips – and there are so many more to take – I keep in mind Arnold’s poem “The Scholar-Gypsy,” but my feelings are opposite that of Arnold’s speaker. Unlike his speaker who urges the Oxford-truant-turned-gypsy figure to “fly our feverish contact,” I want to make contact, and I feel that mapping technology, photography, and archival studies are some of the many “heaven-sent moments for this skill” of finding intersections with the Victorians (50).

So I look forward to tailing my Scholar-Gypsy through North America on my website  And when I catch those glimpses, when I find him in those shy retreats, I will – photographically, if not physically – put my hands on everything!

The conference countdown begins!

Drawing Room, Elizabeth Gaskell's House. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

Drawing Room, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

We’re looking forward to welcoming speakers and delegates to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, Manchester for the Placing the Author conference in a week and a half’s time! The programme and abstracts are now online, covering a diverse range of topics related to nineteenth-century literary tourism.

Registration closes on 14 June and there are just a few places left! Student/unwaged tickets cost £35; waged tickets £45. You can book here.

Get in touch with the conference team ( if you have any questions.


‘S’ for snow…‘What is SNOW?’: literary tourism via spatiality and temporality

Chitra Jayathilake (Keele University & University of Sri Jayewardenepura)

chitra 1

Keele University Library

‘What is SNOW?’ was neither rightly answered nor comprehended in the least then; instead I was taught, and I mastered, the English alphabet through ‘Apple’ and ‘Snow’ at the age of 3 or 4, ostensibly prior to reading the alphabet of my native language. Being a Sri Lankan, born and brought up in the home country when Sri Lankans had little to no access to television to see ‘the impossible-to-imagine things’,  snow  was only a white material until we saw it later on screen, and apples were just ‘red oranges’ until we tasted them frequently, owing to the rapid expansion of open economic policies.

The first English novel I read – in fact a simplified version, being a small school girl, a hosteller, who learnt English as a second language – helped me to sympathise with the parentless, the ill-treated and the ostracized. It was Jane Eyre, and I loved Jane, above all for her innocence, honesty and kindness but hated Rochester for his arrogance.

The Brontes' School

The Brontes’ School

Lakes are not only common sights in Sri Lanka but also function as ‘swimming pools’ and ‘bath tubs’ for some in the tropical country, yet DAFFODILS, unknown  and unseen, left us in a quandary.  When the teacher explained ‘[w]hen all at once I saw a crowd…A host, of golden daffodils’,  I attempted to picture ‘fluttering’ and ‘dancing’ yellow mass; thus not only inspired by the beauty but also imagined being hosted by the unseen. However, when Wordsworth’s poem became ‘the ever-present literary work’ in almost all English Literature classrooms, dancing daffodils also pushed me from my dreams to a sleepy hollow.

As a teenager, wasn’t I madly in love with the speaker of these words: ‘Take any form, drive me mad, only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life! I cannot die without my soul’? Yes, I expected, as is usual for many ‘immature’ girls of my age, to find an ‘I-cannot-live-without-you’ man: I loved Heathcliff, therefore at times was envious of Catherine, until this craze developed to explore, as an undergrad, the creator of this complex character in Wuthering Heights and the author’s life. Through the first English drama I studied – ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?’ – I saw Shakespeare’s merchant [of Venice] only as a vicious inhumane person until later I deconstructed the interpretation through postcolonial lens. I am used to considering Shakespeare’s Globe as a marvel although I later learnt to question its politics and reconstruction by the American actor and director Sam Wanamaker in the 1970s. I continue to regard Shakespeare as a genius, and love Wuthering Heights, yet problematise their impact, as legacies of colonialism, on the Sri Lankan education system. I know all the aforesaid experiences are partly due to my exposure to, and interest in, English literature, yet mainly due to the country’s exposure to British colonialism – the teaching of Shakespeare along with other English classics was partly a cultural project of colonialism.[1]

chitra 4

So, there is no wonder, and it needs no further explanation, why I was so excited, even though it was years later, to experience and see the world around Keele University, when I received an opportunity to be a PhD candidate there in 2012. One of the first things (my arrival was during winter) was to enjoy the beauty of snow-falling, by reflecting on the ‘S for Snow’ lesson, while ‘suffering’ from the alien weather. The childhood dreams and imaginations, possessed through English literary classics, culminated in many first-hand experiences and sight-seeing visits in the UK, thanks to the friends I met at Keele: the Globe Theatre, daffodils, the Lake District and the Peak District, Ruskin’s Brentwood, Bronte Sisters’ School, Arthur’s Seat in Scotland and Shakespeare’s birth place are just to name a few. With Guy and Marion, I saw the Brontës’ and Ruskin’s lifestyles, and with Hannah explored Stratford-upon-Avon to reflect on my memories of English literature, by crossing the spatial and temporal boundaries. These pictures represent two significant spaces of my literary tourism, along with the query, snow. The first photograph is the library of Keele University taken in January 2015: the second is an edited photo focussing on the place where Bronte sisters’ ‘lived as pupils’ taken in February 2013. The next is Shakespeare’s birthplace captured in April 2014. The last snapshots, taken on the same day, highlight Ann Hathaway’s residence (left) and Shakespeare’s museum. The Brontës’ school connotes two sisters’ impact on my personal life and the Shakespeare’s birthplace signifies my continued interest in Anglophone theatre, yet particularly in postcolonial plays – the context of my doctoral research.

chitra 3

[1] See for instance, Brian Longhurst et al. ( 2008) Introducing Cultural Studies (2nd edition), London: Longman, and Bill Ashcroft et al. (2007) Post-colonial Studies: The key concepts (2nd edition), London and New York, Routledge.

Getting to Grips with Gaskell

Bronte eraser

Beatrice’s parsonage souvenir

Beatrice Lord, University of York 

Like many people, my first real encounter with Literary Tourism was a secondary school trip to Haworth to see the Brontë Parsonage. Aged twelve, I hadn’t even managed to finish my bulky copy of Jane Eyre beforehand, and I hadn’t yet read any other Brontë novels. My ‘knowledge’ of the sisters came from watching the odd BBC adaptation and Kate Bush’s mystical lyrics to ‘Wuthering Heights’. But wandering around the building sparked a long-standing interest in the Brontës, and in sites of literary significance generally. The teachers and museum had organised a re-enactment of a scene from the novel downstairs, though we were largely left to discover the Brontë workplace and home with our friends.  This experience set up a deeply-engrained image of the sisters’ writing environment, which I return to every time I pick up one of their works. Desperately seeking a physical reminder of my trip to accompany this, in the end I even bought a Jane Eyre eraser from the gift shop with my pocket money. It is a souvenir I’ve kept on my desk to this day, proof of my time amongst the Brontës’ own possessions, much like Amber’s tea-towel.

After this school-engineered foray into Literary Tourism, I independently started to pay more attention to the spaces connected to writers. This often meant simply taking notice of the incidental literary pasts of places I visited. Family holidays to Whitby suddenly became Gothic adventures, and it was a thrill to imagine how Beatrix Potter’s experience of the unspoilt Lake District might compare to mine.

Particularly when studying Mary Barton and Ruth, I found my experience of the novels was truly enhanced by exploring the author’s old haunts.  First-hand comparisons of industrial Manchester with Gaskell’s idyllic Lancashire holiday retreat have undoubtedly shaped my perception of her settings. The city is still full of imposing Victorian churches and the skyline would have shared many of the same features as today. The stunning natural beauty of Silverdale on the other hand, undoubtedly offers a sense of escape. I found myself thinking back to the moment in Ruth when Gaskell’s protagonist spends a contemplative period away from home. Gazing upon vast expanses of water, Ruth awaits the footsteps of the man whom could make this isolation permanent by taking their son away:

And she turned round and looked seaward. The tide had turned; the waves were slowly receding, as if loth to lose the hold they had, so lately, and with such swift bounds, gained on the yellow sands… There was no sign of human life to be seen; no boat, or distant sail, or near shrimper. The black posts there were all that spoke of men’s work or labour. Beyond a stretch of the waters, a few pale grey hills showed like films; their summits clear, though faint, their bases lost in a vapoury mist. [1]

Although Gaskell sets these chapters in the fictional Abermouth, it is easy to imagine her views from Silverdale’s Lindeth Tower (where she penned the novel) went some way to inspiring the descriptions.

Lindeth Tower by Alison Rawson

Lindeth Tower by Alison Rawson [2]

It was this passion for the landscapes associated with Gaskell that really drew me to Placing the Author. The opportunity to work in such a special location as her newly-restored house in Manchester was irresistible. The venue serves as the perfect background for conversing with those with similar intrigue for literary sites and I am particularly excited to witness the kind of atmosphere the rooms present.

[1] Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth. (London: Penguin Books, 1997) (p.243)

[2] Alison Rawson, Lindeth Tower, 26 May 2008, via Wikimedia commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

Creative Commons Licence

Imaginary Tourism

Jessica Cook, University of South Florida

This spring I taught a course on the nineteenth-century novel at the University of South Florida. In the course description, I referred to the class as a “literary tour of the nineteenth-century British novel.” Though the novels we read were quite different, they all shared an interest in what it means to live in nineteenth-century England. However, this “tour” not only asked my students to take part in a kind of literary time travel to the unfamiliar nineteenth century, it also asked them to imagine a drastically different landscape from our own in Tampa, Florida. Unfortunately, any field trips to Charles Dickens’ London or Emily Brontë’s Yorkshire moors were out of the question. So what does literary tourism look like when one can’t actually visit the site itself?

To begin with, I kept a Google map that pinpointed significant places mentioned in each novel. We charted the characters’ journeys, helping us to better visualize, for example, the wide range of movement in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, from the Yorkshire coast to London to India. At the end of the course, we were able to zoom out and observe each novel’s geographic connections to the others. The students noticed that the earlier novels like Persuasion and Wuthering Heights tended to be more concentrated in one area, while the later novels like Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles were more spread out across various locations, mirroring the mobility of the characters in those novels. They also observed the map reflected thematic aspects of the novels, such as the way the locations in Wuthering Heights were so clustered together they almost appeared on top of one another, reproducing that novel’s suffocating psychological atmosphere.

The students were also assigned a digital research project that allowed them to explore in depth a single location from any novel we read. They presented their research in the digital platform of their choice, discussing how their findings influenced their understanding of the place’s role in the novel. Each student took his or her own imaginary tour through such places as the navy ships in Persuasion, real-life inspirations for Wuthering Heights, Pip’s home in the North Kent marshes in Great Expectations, the London streets in The Moonstone, and Stonehenge in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Toward the end of the course, I shared the Postcard Project with the students, and we talked more about why we have a desire to make these literary pilgrimages, whether real or, in our case, imagined. As the writers who have contributed to this site have noted, we often form an affection or attachment to these places through the act of reading, long before we ever visit them. Likewise, the critic Lawrence Buell notes, “But the fact that the imaginer hasn’t been there and maybe never will hardly lessens the intensity of such storied or imaged places to induce longing and loyalty.”[1] The act of reading is also an act of imaginary tourism, and perhaps one that can act on the reader just as powerfully as tourism in the more literal sense.

[1] Lawrence Buell, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), (p.73)

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Four Visits to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth

Deborah Wynne, University of Chester

The first of my visits to the Brontë Parsonage Museum occurred in 1973, while the most recent in 2014 and each visit has been important in stimulating my engagement with the work of the Brontë sisters. The first visit took place when I was a child. I accompanied my mother on a trip organised by the Extra-Mural Studies Department of Keele University. My mother and her friends, working-class women who had plucked up the courage to attend a weekly English Literature class in the local community centre, were reading Wuthering Heights. During the trip to Haworth I caught their excitement about the novel and longed to read it. I remember opening my mother’s copy and not understanding the first page at all. As I shuffled through the Parsonage with the rest of the summer holiday crowd, listening to my mother and her companions buzzing with fascinating information about Emily’s novel, I knew that I had to find out more about the Brontës.

Just a few of the things I bought from the gift shop.

Just a few of the things I bought from the gift shop.

By the time I made my second trip to the Brontë Museum, I’d read all of the novels and was very keen to see Haworth again, believing that my enjoyment of the novels would be enhanced by another visit to the Parsonage. So I caught a series of buses from Manchester to Haworth in the summer of 1987 accompanied by my small daughter. I had plans to start my undergraduate studies that autumn and had been rereading many of the major novels of the Victorian period. This trip was memorable for our walk on the moor, where we picked a sprig of heather in memory of Charlotte bringing a sprig for Emily just before she died. My daughter still has the heather today, curled up in its pretty little bottle.

Here we are queuing for the lecture in the Brontë Parsonage cellar.

Here we are queuing for the lecture in the Brontë Parsonage cellar.

I was a lecturer when I visited Haworth for the third time in 2006. I’d organised the trip for my third-year Women’s Writing students. We were studying Jane Eyre and loving every minute of it. Our visit took place on a hot May day, and before we toured the house, we sat in the cold basement of the Parsonage listening to a fascinating lecture by one of the Museum’s education officers. The freezing temperature led to some of us developing a mysterious illness soon afterwards; the symptoms were sore throats, chest pains and difficulty breathing. It was obvious what had happened: in the Brontës’ cellar we had caught the lingering germs of ‘consumption’! I even had a hectic flush. Strange to say, though, we all completely recovered within a few days. This was something of an anti-climax. When I’d been confined to bed I’d imagined headlines such as ‘The Brontë Parsonage Museum: The Death Toll Rises’.

My most recent visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum was in the spring of 2014, again accompanied by my daughter. We had wanted to revisit Haworth for sentimental reasons. However, I also needed to gain some inspiration for a book chapter I was writing on the literary pilgrimages to Haworth which took place in the fifty years after Charlotte’s death. We spent a long time looking at everything in the Museum – much longer than on any previous visit – and tried to imagine the house as it was when it was the home of the Brontës. We also spent longer in the gift shop and bought many irresistible odds and ends, before going out to take photographs of the house from the adjacent churchyard. Seeing the Parsonage from a short distance, standing among the graves, the house for the first time became actualised for me as a house (rather than a museum). It felt as though I was intruding on the privacy of a home as I stared up at the windows hoping (as so many Victorian visitors hoped) to see the ghost of one of the sisters returning my gaze. This feeling was both intense and embarrassing. My only consolation is that thousands of others have felt a similar irrational longing to find ghostly traces of the sisters. The longing I have felt when visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum has always prompted me to do more reading. This time I bought a copy of the Brontës’ juvenilia and am reading it now.

In Haworth Churchyard looking towards the Parsonage.

In Haworth Churchyard looking towards the Parsonage.