I cannot think of a gift I would want more than this! [do hope my caro sposo is paying close attention!]– I had the pleasure of meeting Susannah Fullerton at the JASNA AGM in Brooklyn – she goes above and beyond as the President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia (JASA), has just published A Dance with Jane Austen [she wrote a guest post here], and she has a new book coming out in early 2013 Celebrating Pride and Prejudice (titled Happily Ever After in the UK)
And she also treks around the world doing literary tours with ASA [Australians Studying Abroad] Cultural Tours , so today I have invited Susannah to share with us her love of literary touring:
EXPLORING LITERARY LANDSCAPES
My first literary love was a red-haired girl named Anne Shirley who lived at Green Gables. My mother, who had read me the ‘Anne’ books, had a postcard of Green Gables and I used to spend ages looking at the picture wondering if I would ever get to see that Canadian house, to walk through the Haunted Wood and admire the Lake of Shining Waters. When I moved on to the writings of the Brontës it was the Yorkshire moors I longed to roam (and if I was very lucky, Heathcliff might turn up!). Then I discovered Jane Austen and grew almost desperate to get to England so that I too could walk the Cobb and jump down those famous steps, stroll the Gravel Walk and imagine Captain Wentworth by my side, or visit the Jane Austen museum at Chawton. By my mid teens I knew the map of England far better than the map of my native New Zealand, but I still had some years to wait before I would finally get to see those literary places.
[Image: courtesy of Mollands]
I am not alone in my desires to visit literary shrines. Most readers who love a book are then eager to see the landscapes associated with it, or the home of the author who created it. They want to pay their respects at that writer’s graveside and see the desk at which a masterpiece was written. Ten years ago I began to plan literary tours for a travel company named Australians Studying Abroad (ASA). In my enthusiasm, that first tour outline was stuffed so full that there would have been no time for anyone to even sleep, but I soon learned what could be fitted into each day and ASA had been conducting tours for a long time and knew what worked.
And so in 2003 I took 25 Australians off to England to explore its literary landscapes. I returned totally hooked – I love showing others the literary sites that mean so much to me, telling them the stories of the authors, dining with them in literary restaurants, enjoying gardens planted by famous authors and seeing manuscripts in libraries and museums. I have repeated that first tour many times, and will do so again in 2014, but the pleasure never palls for me. And every tour group is different – for some tour members the highlight is taking a walk on Haworth moor in the footsteps of the Brontës, for others visiting Thomas Hardy’s home and seeing the places inhabited by his Mayor of Casterbridge; for others, it is standing in DH Lawrence’s little birthroom and picturing the mining life described so vividly in Sons and Lovers, admiring the grandeur of Byron’s ancestral pile, enjoying at evening reception at Wordsworth’s lovely Rydal Mount home, or standing in the tiny Oare church where Lorna Doone was shot by the wicked Carver. But always for me the absolute highlight is Jane Austen country – strolling that Gravel Walk has never lost its charm even if Captain Wentworth has not turned up to accompany me (yet!!!), I still cry every time I stand by Jane Austen’s grave, and I adore the Chawton museum.
‘Exploring the Literary Landscapes of England’ is not my only tour. It has a ‘sequel’ tour, “Exploring More Literary Landscapes of England” (which includes Tennyson country, Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornwall, the Isle of Wight, marvellous Shandy Hall in Yorkshire, the glorious Pepys Library in Cambridge, and which ends with all tour participants being chauffeur-punted along the Cam from Rupert Brooke’s Grantchester).
This year I did my first literary tour in France, “In Search of Literary France” which includes the homes and museums of great French writers such as Dumas, Balzac, Proust, George Sand, Rimbaud, Flaubert, Verlaine etc, but also visiting the writers such as Hemingway, Dickens, Oscar Wilde and others. This tour also takes in the lovely Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, where we enjoy ‘literary and potato peel pie’ experiences, and visit the Gerald Durrell zoo and Victor Hugo’s Guernsey home. This tour is on offer again in June 2013. Also next year I lead my first literary tour to the South of France (“The Nearest Thing to Paradise”) and am very excited about that – it includes a stay at the hotel where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night, a visit to Dumas’ Chateau d’If where his Count of Monte Cristo was incarcerated, a visit to Daudet’s famous windmill (Letters from my Windmill) and it ends with some days in the stunning Cevennes where Robert Louis Stevenson travelled with his donkey. Both my French tours include lots of art. I’m an Impressionist painting addict, so have added art museums to my itinerary.
In 2013 there is also a Scottish tour planned (“The Banks and Braes of Literary Scotland”). I adore Scotland, one of my favourite of all countries, and love to show off its magnificent scenery and tell tour participants of the wonders of Tam O’Shanter, Kidnapped and other Scottish writings. We will dine in the very home where Robert Louis Stevenson sat and read his beloved Pride and Prejudice again and again, we will follow Miss Jean Brodie in her prime, visit the birthplace of Sir J.M. Barrie, Sir Walter Scott’s magnificent Abbotsford, and also experience Scottish history and culture as we travel.
And yes, thanks to my tours, I did finally get to see Green Gables, when in 2010 I took a tour group on an exploration of the “Literary Landscapes of North America”. For two days on Prince Edward Island I found it very hard to stop crying! I saw the Lake of Shining Waters and cried, I watched the Anne of Green Gables musical and wept yet again over Matthew’s death, I strolled down Lovers’ Lane and I cried again – it was all so wonderful and so evocative of my girlhood reading and I was there right in the middle of the books I loved so much!
[Image: courtesy of Tourism PEI.com]
My literary tours might be organised in Australia, but they are open to anyone, and I have loved including British, South African, New Zealand and American travellers in my groups. Anyone can join a tour at its starting point – you do not need to fly from Australia. All details can be found on the tour company website www.asatours.com.au – We travel in 50 seater coaches, with numbers limited to 25 so there’s plenty of room to spread out, and I lecture from the front of the coach, preparing the group for each visit, telling you about the writer’s lives and works. Hotels are either 3 or 4 star, and many meals are included.
If you feel like treating yourself to a literary pilgrimage sometime in the next few years I would love to have you join me. But remember, literary travel becomes almost as addictive as reading Jane Austen!
President, Jane Austen Society of Australia
Author of Jane Austen and Crime, Brief Encounters: Literary Travellers in Australia, A Dance with Jane Austen and the forthcoming Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (American edition will be called Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece), due out Jan. 2013.
Thank you Susannah for this! – I am sure there are many readers of this blog who would love to join you on one or all of your treks, crying all along the route as well! I am just hoping that Santa is listening…
In the meantime, we shall put this on our want-lists: