Exit through the Gift Shop: Bringing Things


If my endless accounts of literary stalking have inspired you to embark on your own visit to a writer’s house, there is one vital item that you’ll need to squeeze into your suitcase, if you’ve not done so already. As I touched on in a much earlier post about the author Jean-Jacques Rousseau (see https://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/literarytourist/?p=162) sometime around the 1780s a new reading practice emerged: that of bringing books to re-read on the spot where they were set, or had been composed, or sometimes both. Originally this was the practice of the elite, but by the 1830s it had been adopted by a wider public. The evidence for this trend resides in private papers, in published accounts which represent the practice, and in the shape of publications designed to facilitate it. A Handbook for Travellers in Switzerland, and the Alps of Savoy and Piedmont (1838), for instance, contained Rousseau, Byron, Voltaire, Gibbon and Germaine de Staël helpfully excerpted to fit in a pocket. The Handbook provides, in the words of the author, a compendium of ‘deathless associations’ efficiently indexed to ‘immortalised localities.’ So, whichever ‘immortalised locality’ it is that you’re off to on your trip, be sure to immerse  yourself fully in Victorian reading culture, by packing your copy of your favoured author’s works.


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