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Alison Booth, Homes and Haunts

boothHomes and Haunts

Touring Writers’ Shrines and Countries

Alison Booth

The first full-length study of literary tourism in North America as well as Britain, Homes and Haunts: Touring Writers’ Shrines and Countries explores popular response to writers, their house museums, and the landscapes or “countries” associated with their lives and works. Ranging from 1820-1940, the book unites museum and tourism studies, book history, narrative theory, theories of gender, space, and things, and other approaches to envision the haunting experiences of exhibited houses and the curious history of topo-biographical writing about famous authors. Booth argues that the discourse of pilgrimage flourished as a form of literary criticism well into the twentieth century, when it was expelled from the academy along with readers’ attachments to biography. The book’s illustrated chapters blend Booth’s first-person tours, often guided by curators, with Victorian pilgrimages to networks of personalities associated with locales. Visiting literary shrines and plaques, and interpreting guidebooks, memoirs, portraits, and monuments, the reader meets such nineteenth-century pilgrims as William and Mary Howitt, Anna Maria and Samuel Hall, and Elbert Hubbard, and such magnetic hosts and guests as Washington Irving, the Wordsworths, Martineau, Longfellow, Hawthorne, Henry James, and Dickens. Virginia Woolf’s feminist response to homes and haunts shapes a chapter on the gendering of literary setting and genre in representations of Mary Russell Mitford, Gaskell, and the Brontës, as well as the penultimate chapter, which retraces a composite collective history of the everyday lives and things in the domestic museums, Carlyle’s House and Monk’s House.

Homes and Haunts rediscovers collections of personalities, haunted shrines, and imaginative re-enactments that have been submerged by a century of academic literary criticism. Popular practical criticism of literary sites and countries, launching the tourism industry in the early nineteenth century, generated illustrated short narratives combining journalistic tours with interviews or literary biographies, in a popular genre known as homes and haunts established by 1850. Writers anticipated audience reception in staged hospitality at their publicized homes, much as authors make book tours today. Posthumously, societies formed to establish biographical museums in the former home, increasingly after the 1890s. All these forms of reception and hospitality continue to this day, aided by the Internet. Homes and Haunts in part emulates the genre that anticipates or commemorates a literary tour, while drawing upon the digital resources of scholarship on periodicals and books and the perspectives of feminist cultural studies. The histories of author-veneration in Tarrytown, Concord, Wordsworthshire, Longfellow Country, Brontë Country and Gaskell’s haunts, Stratford-on-Avon, Bloomsbury or Chelsea, and the competition between British and North American efforts to collect and preserve shrines, will illuminate readers’ own experiences of literary biographies, literary tours, and the many ways that canons of British and American literature have been witnessed in person.

Alison Booth is Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

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