Literary Awareness

Samet Çevik (Bandirma Onyedi Eylül Üniversity, Türkiye)

Literary awareness pertains to an individual’s grasp, comprehension, and admiration of literature and its diverse components. It encompasses familiarity with various literary genres, authors, and literary works. As highlighted by Smith (2003), aside from literary works such as books, poems, and plays, it can be acquired from various sources, including past visits, general interest, prior education, and past professional experience. Demographic variables such as gender, nationality, place of residence, occupation, and educational level, while varying across different literary sites, can also differentiate the level of literary awareness among literary tourists (Busby & Shetliffe, 2013).

As the idea of literary pilgrims stresses the significance of cultural competence (Herbert, 2001), literary awareness serves as a key element in the concept of literary pilgrimage, reflecting the extent to which literary tourists transition into the role of literary pilgrims. Literary pilgrims, who are well-versed in literature, possess cultural knowledge, and have the ability to appreciate and understand this kind of heritage, are well-educated tourists with high literary awareness (Herbert, 2001). They generally aim to pay homage to authors, establish a spiritual connection with the author, cultivate empathy, and actively seek moments of self-reflection. This profound encounter could grant them the chance to embark on a transformative inner journey (Brown, 2016; Çevik, 2022). On the other hand, literary tourists can exhibit diverse motivations stemming from their varying knowledge and interests. A desire for a pilgrimage-like experience may drive travellers who possess a deep appreciation for literature. In contrast, others may embark on their journeys for reasons such as nostalgia, leisure, immersing themselves in scenic landscapes, or gaining insights into the life of the author (Baleiro, 2022). One of the key factors that sets general visitors apart from dedicated literary tourists, who possess a deep understanding of the literary significance of a site, is their level of literary awareness (Busby & Shetliffe, 2013).

The level of literary awareness significantly influences the motivations and experiences of literary tourists (Busby & Shetliffe, 2013; Çevik, 2020). In a comparative study conducted by Herbert (2001), two literary areas in Chawton and Laugharne were examined. The study revealed that in Chawton, there was a notable level of literary awareness about Jane Austen and her literary works. Additionally, the study concluded that certain participants had a meaningful experience akin to a literary pilgrimage. Despite a general level of awareness about Dylan Thomas in Laugharne, participants were found to have less extensive knowledge about his literary works, suggesting a lower level of literary awareness. Nevertheless, Herbert noted that this did not diminish the value of being there for tourists. They still departed with memorable experiences and were able to learn something from their visits. In another study, Busby & Devereux (2015) examined the impact of reading Anne Frank's diary on the motivation to visit The Anne Frank House, a dark literary tourism site. It was found that those who had previously read the book and followed media related to Anne Frank were more encouraged to visit the site. These visitors, who demonstrated a higher literary awareness of the location, were primarily driven by education, interest, curiosity, and a desire for further information. Conversely, among those who had not read the diary, some held negative perceptions of the story and the setting it depicted, and it was revealed that some of them visited the site simply because they were already in the region.

Literary awareness plays a pivotal role in shaping the literary tourists’ perceptions of a literary site, actual or fictional. Factors such as the authenticity, objects, decors, interpretation policies, exhibition decisions, or promotional activities of the literary sites all make sense in the eyes of literary tourists, depending on their literary awareness. As a result, this inevitably impacts the overall experience of literary tourists. It would be accurate to suggest that within this context, the concept of literary awareness significantly influences the expectations of tourists with an interest in literature. Muresan & Smith (1998) conducted a study involving visitors to Bran Castle, famously promoted as Dracula’s Castle, and discovered that tourists who were aware of the lack of association between the legend and the castle expressed satisfaction with their experience. On the contrary, those who had anticipated obtaining firsthand information about the legend or witnessing elements associated with it were left disappointed.

A similar situation applies to literary destinations as well. Travelling to a destination featured in a story is a significant motivation for literary tourism. When visitors possess prior knowledge of a narrative that takes place in a specific location, it prompts them to view the actual landscape of that place as representing a particular fictional setting. Literary tourists who have explored a place through the pages of a novel will feel a sense of familiarity with the location and a deeper understanding of the events that unfolded there (Gothie, 2016). Literary tours that encompass locations featured in fictional texts are appealing products of literary tourism, particularly for tourists with high literary awareness. These tours, covering different locations, allow literary tourists to revive their cherished texts by stimulating their imagination (Spooner, 2014). Within this context, literary trails that are strategically designed to include literary figures, locations depicted in fictional works, or areas with cultural or historical significance in literature, hold great value for tourists who possess a high level of literary awareness. MacLeod et al. (2009) identified three distinct literary trail typologies in their study: biographical, literary landscape, and generic literary. Biographical trails primarily cater to tourists with a high level of literary awareness, aiming to help them develop a comprehensive understanding of the author's life and their impact on literature. On the other hand, literary landscape trails, which span a wide geographic area, focus on the relationship between the landscape and the author or their fictional world, playing a crucial role in effectively communicating a destination’s brand identity. Generic literary trails, developed by local authorities, aim to celebrate the intellectual tradition of a destination and enhance the region’s status and reputation.

Literary awareness in literary tourism transcends the scope of literary tourists and becomes an essential concept that must be embraced by various stakeholders, including literary site developers, creators, managers, employees, and destination planners involved in promoting literary tourism. The presence of experts with high literary awareness about the author, work, character, or theme associated with the literary place who are involved in crucial aspects like planning, design, exhibition, and interpretation of literary sites is another key factor contributing to the memorable experiences of literary tourists. Undoubtedly, this holds true for guides or personnel who have direct communication with literary tourists as well. Smith (2003) conducted a study on volunteers working at literary sites. The findings indicated that the majority of volunteers had limited or no prior knowledge, those who were knowledgeable focused more on the works rather than the details of the author’s life. Furthermore, the study found that having prior knowledge about literary figures was not a prerequisite for volunteering at most literary sites.

By taking into account the motivations of tourists who possess a profound literary awareness, literary sites have the potential to provide more meaningful experiences that go beyond mere visits to these places. Furthermore, these literary sites should use the diverse motivations and expectations stemming from different levels of literary awareness as a guide to effectively plan and organise the products and experiences they offer.

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

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