Literary Heritage and Tourism

Jordi Arcos-Pumarola (CETT Barcelona School of Tourism, Hospitality and Gastronomy, University of Barcelona, Spain)

Literary heritage is a complex notion that brings together a diversity of meanings since it refers to a mixed reality with tangible and intangible significances (Munmany Muntal, 2017). In addition, the notion of literary heritage maintains the necessary revision and constant updating of its referents, as it is, like all heritage, a social construct depending on the present cultural trends and values (Prats, 1998).

Given this complexity, the definition and concretization of this concept are essential for the development of literary tourism insofar as it makes it possible to define the resources from which to develop a literary tourism offer in a specific territory. Considering this, literary heritage is a concept that has received four general meanings in current literature (Arcos-Pumarola et al., 2019).

On the one hand, it is regarded as the original material substratum of the literary expression. Here the book itself appears as the first source of literary heritage. Therefore, by turning the literary manuscript into a heritage item, this becomes our centre of interest.

On the other hand, literary heritage is formed by the immaterial legacy generated and created by the author. In this way, the importance of the literary expression is put, on the one hand, on the set of ideas, values, feelings, etc. the creator-subject has generated and, on the other hand, on the study of the aesthetic quality of their texts.

Third, literature is always related to the cultural framework where a particular book has appeared. The reception of a literary work is part of the social being of the literary work, being author, book, and the society a whole. Considering this notion of the social being of literature, literary heritage is sometimes understood as the influence that certain literary work had towards the language or the collective identity of a social group.

Finally, literature and its authors are inseparable from the territory represented in the book or where the author lived some relevant episodes of their life that marked their work. Here, literary heritage becomes tangible and is related to the human geography of territories; literary heritage being a layer of meaning that overlaps the territory and allows to identify a series of literary places with a load of relevant meaning by virtue of literature.

This last notion of literary heritage, framed in the subjective geography (Soldevila i Balart & De San Eugenio Vela, 2012), is particularly relevant for literary tourism, since it allows the identification of certain places with a potential attractive for visitors with literary interests. These literary places act as a memory trigger for those tourists who are aware of the meaning layer embedded in the literature.

Those places can be generally divided into two large groups, considering whether they are related to a literary figure, or to a literary plot grounded in a real place. This division allows destinations to build a literary tourism offer, since literary tourism could be understood as the visit to locations associated with the author or those featured within their writings (Hoppen et al., 2014).Literary tourists are motivated to access these two meaning layers related to literature, the one that follows the steps of a literary figure’s life; and the one born through the appearance and heritagization of a literary work that refers and signals the physical territory.

Thus, there are places where authors lived, which allow us not only to get to know the figure behind the literary works, but also to get closer to the author's inspiration and creative moment based on knowing the environment where they wrote. Some examples of literary places that become a point of interest are the city of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, where JRR Tolkien spent part of his childhood, including some places that evoke the imaginary Middle Earth, showing that this city was a source of inspiration for The Lord of the Rings’ author (Arcos-Pumarola et al., 2018); or the relationship established between Goethe and Lake Garda after his travel to Italy (Uccella, 2009).

Among these biographical places, the house where an author lived during a specific moment in their life is particularly relevant in the link between tourism and literary heritage. On the one hand, a literary house museum stands out as a singular attraction, accessible and open, so visitors with literary interests might start the unveiling of a literary landscape with the literary house museum as a starting point. On the other hand, given the educational mission that museums have, literature house museums are ideal spaces to increase visitors’ literary awareness, so they could later read and interpret the literary landscape. Thus, literary house museums are facing the challenge to make literary heritage visible and enhance it (Strepetova & Arcos-Pumarola, 2020).

Parallelly to these biographical places, literature also enriches the cultural background of the landscape since literary works’ content may depict the territory with a particular gaze, highlighting certain places of lifestyles and, therefore, providing a singular approach to the territory. This literary gaze of the territory allows identifying locations that become attractive through literature. An example of this second type of literary places is Leopold Bloom’s Dublin, a detailed portrayal of the Irish capital which shows a realistic gaze of the city within a fictional plot (Lemos, 2020), or the Sherlock Holmes’ London, which provides a dark and mysterious atmosphere of the British city (van Es & Reijnders, 2018).

In conclusion, tourism and literary heritage meet when the latter is understood from a subjective literature point of view. This comprehension of literary heritage provides two meaning layers, one related to authors’ biographies and the other to the appearance of the territory on literary works. Nevertheless, it must be taken into account that those literary places are highlighted not by virtue of their physical traits but rather their condition of literary places comes from an intangible source. In this sense, literary places are not visible to the tourist gaze without a marker (MacCannell, 1999) that raises awareness of the importance and meaning of the literary place beyond erudite visitors. This way, developing a literary tourism offer might increase the visibility of literary heritage.

How to cite this dictionary entry: Arcos-Pumarola, J. (2023). Literary heritage and tourism. In Baleiro, R., Capecchi, G., & Arcos-Pumarola, J. (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

  • Arcos-Pumarola, J., Marzal, E. O. & Llonch-Molina, N. (2018). Literary urban landscape in a sustainable tourism context. Human Geographies, 12(2), 175–189.
  • Arcos-Pumarola, J., Osácar Marzal, E. & Llonch-Molina, N. (2019). The concept of literary heritage: a definition through bibliographic review. Forum for World Literature Studies, 11(1), 97–120.
  • Hoppen, A., Brown, L. & Fyall, A. (2014). Literary tourism: Opportunities and challenges for the marketing and branding of destinations? Journal of Destination Marketing and Management, 3(1), 37–47.
  • Lemos, M. (2020). Writing Dublin: Joyce, Bloomsday and Tourism in the Irish Capital. Via Panoramica: Revista de Estudos Anglo-Americanos, 3(9), 67–77.
  • MacCannell, D. (1999). The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. University of California Press.
  • Munmany Muntal, M. (2017). La gestió del patrimoni literari. Publicacions Universitat Rovira i Virgili.
  • Prats, L. (1998). El Concepto De Patrimonio Cultural. Política y Sociedad, 27, 63–76.
  • Soldevila i Balart, L., & De San Eugenio Vela, J. (2012). Geografia literària dels Països Catalans. El cas de la comarca d’Osona. Ausa, 25(170), 979–1001.
  • Strepetova, M. & Arcos-Pumarola, J. (2020). Literary heritage in museum exhibitions: Identifying its main challenges in the European context. Muzeologia a Kulturne Dedicstvo, 8(3).
  • Uccella, F. R. (2009). La patrimonialització literària a Catalunya : Una aproximació. Mnèmosine, 5, 61–72.
  • van Es, N. & Reijnders, S. (2018). Making sense of capital crime cities: Getting underneath the urban facade on crime-detective fiction tours. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 21(4), 502–520.