Riverine Literary Tourism

Graham Busby (University of Plymouth, UK)

Research addressing literary tourism has existed for many years, although only recently have niche aspects been considered. Rivers frequently act as boundaries, in both a physical and symbolic sense. Riverine literary tourism links tourism with literature based on or around rivers. The connection may be plot-based or associated with dwellings of authors, memoirs, or poetry. For example, Norman Maclean’s semi- autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It, published in 1976, gained greater recognition with the 1992 Brad Pitt film. In her foreword to this novella, set on the Big Blackfoot River in Montana, USA, Annie Proulx (2001) states, “There are few books that have the power to put the reader in such a deep trance that the real world falls utterly away” (p. X). Rivers influence literary tourism by providing a distinctive background ‘colour’ or forming a key narrative element (as with Norman Maclean’s novella). The Mississippi in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is both a transport artery and a symbol of freedom. Flanagan (2016) considers this story to have catalysed American literature and influenced the emergence of the Road novel. Some rivers feature in multiple literary works, whilst others may be illustrated by just one. Riverine settings undoubtedly influence destination image and, therefore, lead to tourism. This dictionary entry will discuss scale and genre with a range of examples to illustrate this.

In terms of large-scale influence, Ackroyd (2007) suggests that the literature of England’s river Thames is “voluminous... it elicits dream narratives... themes of time, fate and destiny” (p.320). Royal librarian John Leland travelled extensively in the Thames Valley in 1542, leading to the first river poem by an English writer – Cygnea Cantio, of 1545 (Ackroyd, 2007). Since then, the Thames has featured in many works. One of the best-known is Jerome K. Jerome’s 1889 humorous account of a two-week boating holiday titled Three Men In A Boat. Several editions incorporate a map, permitting visits to the locations. Children’s literature from Lewis Carroll, Charles Kingsley and, notably, Kenneth Grahame also features the river. For instance, Grahame lived on the river, and characters in The Wind In The Willows inhabit recognisable places – places that can be visited. River associations appear in literature in a primary sense, whereby the river is paramount, as in Three Men In A Boat, and also in a secondary sense in the same book, referring to a literary figure on the river. For example, as Jerome (1889) tells us “It was while floating in his boat under the Bisham beeches that Shelley, who was then living at Marlow (you can see his house now, in West Street), composed The Revolt Of Islam” (p.109). The destination image of the Thames can thus be said to have been influenced by children’s literature and adult humour genres. Both novels, Three Men In A Boat and The Wind In The Willows, are classics and well known. This raises the question as to whether some rivers might be perceived as literary rivers. Claudio Magris’ Danube, for example, first published in 1986, draws on a range of writers, including Andrić, D’Annunzio, Canetti, Eliade, Kafka, and Levi.

Literature permits the identification of semiotic places, that is, “specific places that evoke us a particular narrative account, values and ideas” (Arcos-Pumarola et al., 2018, p. 177). Clearly, there is difficulty in controlling variables to ensure that it is the river per se which influences literature and, hence, tourism activity. However, marketing such as Visit Montana’s website, for example, indicates an awareness of its importance; they state that A River Runs Through It has contributed to the popularity of the river.

As an example of the difficulty in assessing the influence of the river, Quinteiro, Carreira, and Rodrigues Gonçalves (2020) identified 189 authors associated with the Portuguese city of Coimbra. The river Mondego, flowing through the city, is relevant for some of these author associations and, critically, has various meanings dependent on the text. The “Mondego has different meanings in the poetry of Luίs de Camões (memory of his youth), Antόnio de Sousa (memory of the girls he loved in Coimbra) and Antόnio Nobre (working place of the country girls)” (Quinteiro et al., 2020, p. 368). Nonetheless, it is argued that riverine literary tourism can be said to exist.

Much smaller in scale and far from the river Thames runs the Fowey, in Cornwall, navigable for less than 19 kilometres, although influential despite its scale. For many, the eponymous small town of Fowey is associated with two authors – Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) and Arthur Quiller-Couch, frequently referred to as ‘Q’, (1863-1944). Both authors have websites dedicated to them – www.dumaurier.org and www.arthurquillercouch.com. A number of du Maurier’s literary works were set on the river or around the small town of Fowey, including The Loving Spirit (1931), her first novel, as well as Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, The House on the Strand, and Rule Britannia. She also completed Castle Dor, started by Quiller- Couch. Even smaller than the river Fowey, an example of a river featured in only one notable work of fiction is Frenchman’s Creek (on the Helford), precisely the title of one of Daphne du Maurier’s works – Frenchman’s Creek, published in 1941. Her fiction has undoubtedly created an organic destination image concerning the area, further enhanced by the creation of the Daphne du Maurier Festival of Arts and Literature (Busby & Hambly, 2000). The establishment of a Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre added further focus to the author. The appearance of the appellation Daphne du Maurier Country on some road signs illustrates that potential cultural capital (Busby & Meethan, 2008) has been commodified.

What is abundantly clear is that one or two works of literature can significantly affect the destination image of a given river. Furthermore, it does not have to be recent literature, although the adaptation of broadcast media aids longevity. As mentioned, Three Men In A Boat has been filmed several times, and the most recent version is available, in full, on YouTube. In other words, technological developments have greatly assisted with the enduring appeal of this literature. This is film-induced literary tourism – “Tourism resulting from enhanced interest in a destination, secured through reading the literature after viewing the screenplay” (Busby & Laviolette, 2006, p. 149).

No single genre appears to have a greater effect than another. With the Thames, Three Men In A Boat exemplifies adult humour, light-hearted humour that can easily be related to. It also refers to specific locations. Children’s literature, in the form of The Wind In The Willows, may be less significant for tourism to the same river. Reflection on other genres that feature riverscapes draws in poetry, biographies, memoirs, and the natural world in fiction, to identify a few. As an example of the latter, Henry Williamson’s (1927) Tarka the Otter features a large swathe of north Devon, around the rivers Taw and Torridge (Busby & Laviolette, 2006); adapted for the screen, the film was released in 1979 and ranks at number 98 in Channel 4’s One Hundred Greatest Family Films (IMDb, 2022). However, it is the creation of The Tarka Trail which has kept up public awareness to a large extent; see the destination marketing organisation’s website www.visitdevon.co.uk/northdevon/explore/tarka- trail. This is a good example of an external ‘pull’ factor (Baleiro, 2022), resulting in tourism.

As mentioned, the size of the river is not a determinant of the quantity of literature associated with it. However, just because a small river may have a number of works linked with it does not make measuring tourism any easier. This raises the matter of data collection methods in research related to literary tourism. Internet- based forums have been used in literary tourism research (see Busby & Laviolette, 2006) although there is the drawback of self-selecting samples. The Alliance of Literary Societies, in the United Kingdom, represents over a hundred bodies, from the Jane Austen Society to the Virginia Woolf Society (www.allianceofliterarysocieties.wordpress.com/home). As a source, this is a grouping of educated individuals, although self-selection remains the predominant feature. The latter emphasises the phenomenological aspect of much literary tourism. Clearly, external validity cannot be possible in such research. Even with on- site surveys, a lot of effort may be involved for little empirical return and may confirm a low level of specific literary tourism interest (15% in a sample of 218 visitors to Byron’s home Newstead Abbey – Busby & Shetliffe 2013). There are numerous opportunities for both quantitative and qualitative research to test and produce sub- categories of literary tourism, and perhaps innovative methods are required.

There is no doubt that rivers are special places. They act as tangible boundaries but also as spiritual, emotional, and inspirational spaces. A number of genres influence tourism to a river. Part of the explanation lies in the symbolism of rivers and riverscapes. Rivers symbolise different things in different literature. For instance, Mark Twain’s fiction, using the Mississippi, symbolises a sense of freedom whereas Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It could be said to represent the flow of life. Clearly, there are emotional and symbolic layers of meaning involved in this form of tourist activity. For example, Three Men In A Boat appeals because of nostalgia and the hints of simpler times but, critically, there are references to specific places which can be visited. Every visitor’s experience of a river is phenomenological and makes measurement difficult. For example, the purposive literary tourist may visit Marlow because of Shelley’s stay there, as mentioned in Three Men In A Boat. Although the numbers are likely to be small, as a sub-category, riverine literary tourism should be recognised.

How to cite this entry: Busby, G. (2024). Riverine Literary Tourism. In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

References: 
  • Ackroyd, P. (2007). Thames: Sacred river. Chatto & Windus.
  • Arcos-Pumarola, J., Marzal, E.O., & Llonch-Molina, N. (2018). Literary urban landscape in a sustainable tourism context. Human Geographies, 12(2), 175-189.
  • Baleiro, R. (2022). Literary tourism motivations. In D. Buhalis (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Tourism Management and Marketing, (pp. 78-80). Edward Elgar.
  • Busby, G., & Hambly, Z. (2000). Literary tourism and the Daphne du Maurier Festival. In P. Payton (Ed.), Cornish Studies, (vol. 8, pp.197-212). University of Exeter Press.
  • Busby, G., & Laviolette, P. (2006). Narratives in the Net: Fiction and Cornish Tourism. In P. Payton (Ed.), Cornish Studies, (vol. 14, pp.142-163). University of Exeter Press.
  • Busby, G., & Meethan, K. (2008). Cultural capital in Cornwall: Heritage and the visitor. In P. Payton (Ed.), Cornish Studies, (vol. 16, pp.146-166). University of Exeter Press.
  • Busby, G., & Shetliffe, E. (2013). Literary tourism in context: Byron and Newstead Abbey. European Journal of Tourism, Hospitality and Recreation, 4(3), 5-45.
  • Flanagan, R. (2016, October 22). Why Claudio Magris’s Danube is a timely elegy for lost Europe. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/22/why- claudio-magriss-danube-is-a-timely-elegy-for-lost-europe.
  • Jerome, J.K. (1889). Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog). J. W. Arrowsmith.
  • Proulx, A. (2001). Foreword. In Maclean, N. (2001). A River Runs Through It. University of Chicago Press.
  • Quinteiro, S., Carreira, V., & Rodrigues Gonçalves, A. (2020). Coimbra as a literary tourism destination: Landscapes of literature. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, 14(3), 361-372. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCTHR- 10-2019-0176