Anti-Tourism Rhetoric in Dickens' Little Dorrit and Pictures from Italy

By Badin, Donatella Abbate | European English Messenger, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Anti-Tourism Rhetoric in Dickens' Little Dorrit and Pictures from Italy


Badin, Donatella Abbate, European English Messenger


While in the Victorian age the aristocratic institution of the Grand Tour was reaching the masses, Dickens' touristic subplot of Little Dorrit and his own travelogue, Pictures from Italy, whose descriptions underlie the fictional text, were already putting the whole institution of the formative Continental tour into question, subverting traditional views of the benefits of travel. Indeed, many imaginative texts of the Victorian period containing a Grand Tour plot, such as Henry James' Daisy Miller or even George Eliot's Middlemarch, showed the darker underside of travel in their representations of sensitive characters who chafed under the strictures of the Grand Tour, whereas travelogues and almost industrially produced guidebooks contributed to the merchandising of travel as a social marker. The anti-tourism rhetoric described in our days by many theorists of travel literature (e.g. Fussell 1980, 1987, Urry 1990, or Buzard 1993) made its early appearance especially in these two texts by Dickens that go against the grain of mass tourism, highlighting the slavery of sight-seeing and the weariness of the tourist and suggesting that tourism is a form of alienation in which the unauthentic prevails over the authentic.

Dickens' two books display many features common to the kind of travel literature which, to borrow Buzard's words, distinguishes true travellers who go about "with open eyes and free spirits" from tourists, "dupe of fashion, following blindly" (Buzard 1993: 5). They contain much debunking of guided tours and guidebooks and caricatures of British tourists (the Davises in Pictures, the Meagles in Little Dorrit), as well as stereotyped representations of foreigners. The pose of cosmopolitanism is satirized as is the snobbishness of travel, seen in the characters of Mrs General or Mrs Merdle and in the Dorrits' pretensions on their redemptive tour.

Admittedly, Dickens was more of a traditional traveller than he cared to concede when he affirmed: "I have such a perverse disposition in respect of sights that are cut and dried and dictated--that I fear I sin against similar authorities in every place I visit" (Pictures 70). In spite of his refusal to be told what to do, what to see and how to interpret it, in other words to "follow blindly," it has been demonstrated that his travelogue relies heavily on Murray's Handbooks. (12) However, both Little Dorrit and Pictures from Italy, in their more inward-looking passages which go well beyond the satire of travelling habits, contain several anticipations of anti-tourism.

Pictures from Italy departs from the guide-as-instructor model of Baedekers and Murray's Handbooks in its impressionistic style defined by Dickens as "a series of faint reflections--mere shadows in the water" (Pictures 5). "In refusing previous models," Vescovi (2002: 99) points out, "Dickens had to create ex nihilo a new poetic of travel literature", a poetic which shunned descriptions, let alone practical information, in favour of figurative language and imagery with a combination of realism, fiction and surrealism that foreshadows postmodern traits. In the pastiche of the Arabian Nights perceivable in the description of Venice, Vescovi (2002: 104) states, "[t]he dreamy atmosphere of Venice subtracts weight from the city and reduces it to a heap of images that are given order and structure by the Arabian subtext". McNees, too, points out that Dickens's Pictures from Italy, is not only written from an anti-touristic point of view but is addressed to a readership similarly oriented, appealing "to a romantic yearning to resist the beaten track, to be both literally and metaphorically diverted" (2007: 211). Indeed, Dickens has a sort of post-touristic audience in mind when he thinks that his readers may visit the places he reminisces about "in fancy, the more agreeably, and with a better understanding" (Pictures 5). It is a characteristic of post-tourism that people "find less and less necessary to leave home. …

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