Alan McNee (IES): “Missed the view and viewed the mist': late-Victorian guest book entries and the rise of popular tourism”
Writing in the visitors’ book of the summit shelter on Snowdon in July 1863, C.W. Crossley announced that he and his friends had ‘viewed the mist and missed the view’.
Crossley’s reaction to the notoriously fickle weather on Wales’ highest summit was far from unique. In the surviving visitors’ books from the summit shelter, now held in the National Library of Wales and spanning the period 1845 to 1889, this phrase or some variation of it is repeated countless times by signatories. The same is true of the so-called summit ‘hotel’ on Scotland’s Ben Nevis, where Victorian tourists frustrated by the mist-shrouded peak frequently used the same formulation.
Yet other inscriptions to these and other visitors’ books were more original, and often far less polite. Entries in the visitors’ books of pubs, hotels, inns, and other lodgings in the late nineteenth century illustrate two seemingly contradictory trends. On the one hand, there are plenty of scabrous, irreverent, and humorous entries, as well as marginal criticisms by subsequent guests – Kevin James and Evan Tigchelaar describe the margins of Victorian guest books as ‘the lurking place of the caustic commentator’. Yet these entries are the exception, not the rule – most inscriptions are polite and rather formulaic. While the vast increase in the number and range of people who were able to travel for leisure from around the early 1870s meant that ‘new tourists’ with different attitudes and values were writing in guest books, entries in these books continued to be influenced by hegemonic values and by literary traditions – among them the tradition of verse and other entries in country house albums.
This paper will explore the tension between the freedom some guests felt to write irreverent and sometimes pungent comments in books, liberated by a lack of prior censorship or editorial control, and the lingering influence of social convention and literary traditions which meant that guest book entries were deeply influenced by other types of text. It will examine a range of guest books from British hotels and inns, and will also discuss the entries in one particular country house visitors’ book – the so-called Livre de Voyageurs of the Glenquoich sporting estate in the Scottish Highlands, where entries by luminaries including Gladstone, Caroline Norton, Edwin Landseer, and Prosper Mérimée share the pages with inscriptions from more humble visitors, including domestic servants. It will discuss how the traditions of what Samantha Matthews calls a ‘domestic gift economy’, where house guests repay their host’s hospitality by inscriptions in a country house album or guest book, in turn influenced later entries in the guest books of commercial establishments.
Sercan Öztekin (Kocaeli University & QMUL) "Representations of The Orient: The Middle East and North Africa in Mid-Victorian Popular Fiction"
The Arabian Nights and travel writings about the East contributed to the romantic image of the Orient as a mysterious, exotic, and dangerous place which prevailed as a popular conception in the Victorian age. Compared to the Romantic period or imperial romances of the late nineteenth century, The Middle East and North Africa stay as rather under-represented and researched areas in especially Mid-Victorian fiction. Drawing on previous Orientalist studies, this work considers in what way the Orient is represented in Mid-Victorian Popular Fiction, and to what extent it perpetuates and challenges Orientalist subjects in relation to gender, sexuality, and crime.