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Here, said the reviewer for Salon.com, is a book that is "lively and accessible and erudite. . . the perfect companion for anyone who wouldn’t be cauth dead with an airport paperback—though I wouldn’t want to wager which one provides more juice.” Historically, the sexual motives of travel have rarely been spelled out in travel guides and brochures. Sultry Climates is an alternative history of tourism, made up of precisely the details that usually go unmentioned. As Ian Littlewood demonstrates with dazzling ...
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Here, said the reviewer for Salon.com, is a book that is "lively and accessible and erudite. . . the perfect companion for anyone who wouldn’t be cauth dead with an airport paperback—though I wouldn’t want to wager which one provides more juice.” Historically, the sexual motives of travel have rarely been spelled out in travel guides and brochures. Sultry Climates is an alternative history of tourism, made up of precisely the details that usually go unmentioned. As Ian Littlewood demonstrates with dazzling elegance and wit, if we want to make sense of the celebrated "Grand Tour" of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for example, it's as important to take account of travelers' visits to Dresden streetwalkers and Venetian courtesans as it is to reckon with their visits to the Picture Gallery and the Doge's Palace. To understand the Victorian passion for the Mediterranean is to be aware of Greek and Italian attractions that extended far beyond the historical. From Byron in Greece to Isherwood in Germany, from American expatriates on the Left Bank to Orton in Morocco and right up to the present day, what emerges from these experiences is a continuing motif of tourism, previously neglected or ignored, that comes into full view only with the twentieth century's cult of the sun. Suffice it to say that after reading Sultry Climates, you'll never look at tourists in quite the same way again.
In 1996 the Tate Gallery mounted an exhibition with the title Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century. It ranged widely across different features of the Tour, offering persuasive confirmation that this was one of the great cultural enterprises of the eighteenth century. 'The main purpose of the Grand Tour,' according to the catalogue, 'was to experience and study foreign cultures and incorporate aspects of them into one's own society.' Over two hundred and fifty paintings and sculptures had been brought together to reinforce the message in a handsome parade of aristocratic wealth and taste. Richly dressed young nobles posed against a background of Roman ruins, fashionable tourists were pictured contemplating works of art, majestic landscapes offered the spectator a dignified window on classical antiquity. It was an exhibition the travellers themselves would have been happy to sponsor. In a sense that's what they had done, since these were paintings they had commissioned and the objects they had bought; it was the version of the Grand Tour they had bequeathed to the world.
Or it would have been, if the exhibition catalogue had not kept casting faint shadows across this serene display, hints of just the kind of discrepancy referred to at the start of the Introduction. On one page it was a comment from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu that the young tourists 'only remember where they met with the best Wine or the prettyest Women', on another a reminder that the caricaturist Thomas Patch had been expelled from Rome for 'homosexual indiscretion', elsewhere a note that the tutor of the young 8th Duke of Hamilton 'had some difficulty in restraining his charge's amorous adventures'. Trivial observations, but also signs of a reality that was hard to discern among the pictures on exhibition. And then there was the Frenchman Charles de Brosses, who arrived in Rome in November 1739 to find it seething with English. 'The money the English spend in Rome and their custom of making a journey there as part of their education is of scant benefit to the majority of them,' he wrote, adding that there were some 'who will leave the city without having seen anyone but other Englishmen and without knowing where the Colosseum is.' So much for experiencing and studying foreign cultures. To have yourself painted in front of the Colosseum was apparently no guarantee of an inclination to visit it. The English tourists of whom de Brosses was writing -- 'the majority' -- seem to have had concerns rather different from either the cultural pursuits captured on canvas or the 'understanding of international politics and the acquisition of valuable contacts' which the catalogue tells us was the other important goal of the Tour. For these tourists the lure of Italy obviously lay elsewhere, in attractions quite unrepresented by the exhibits in the Tate. It is this gap in the record that I would like to explore.
Since the early Middle Ages the road of Europe had seen a varied traffic of princes, pilgrims, pedlars, scholars, merchants, masons, diplomats and assorted hangers-on. A glance at the range of travel writing before the eighteenth century turns up accounts by travellers from all over the Continent, and whatever their avowed purpose, many of them were clearly prompted as much by tourist curiosity as by any practical consideration. A Polish cleric on the way to Italy, an eccentric Englishman tramping across Europe on foot, a French politician gathering information about the Spanish economy -- all of them were tourists of a sort, but in an incidental fashion. What distinguished the Grand Tour from earlier forms of travel was its elevation of tourism among the British aristocracy to the status of a cultural institution. The term itself is first recorded in Richard Lassels' The Voyage of Italy (1670), though twenty years earlier the diarist John Evelyn had been able to talk of a traveller on a journey through Europe 'making the tour as they call it'. From being simply descriptive of common tourist practice, this concept of the Tour became through the second half of the seventeenth century increasingly prescriptive. Male, upper-class and predominantly English, it defined an experience of travel that was argued by many to be essential to the proper education of a gentleman. There was no set route for the Grand Tour and fixed duration, but in general it was expected to last at least a couple of years and to include France, Switzerland and Italy, probably taking in Germany and the Netherlands on the way home.
By the early eighteenth century, this period of foreign travel was a recognized feature of British aristocratic life. The purpose envisaged for it was summed up by the scholar and antiquarian Thomas Nugent in his popular guidebook, The Grand Tour (1749): 'to enrich the mind with knowledge, to rectify the judgment, to remove the prejudices of education, to compose the outward manners, and in a word to form the complete gentleman'. This is the official version of the Tour. Its stated aim is educative: the young man, usually accompanied by a tutor, his so-called 'bearleader', sets out on his travels to observe, to discriminate, to improve. The validity of the journey is measured in terms of things seen, learnt and collected. On his return, the tourist will be able to lay claim to at least the basic elements of connoisseurship -- a word that found its way into the language at just the time the Grand Tour was entering its heyday. His business abroad has been to school himself socially and to acquire the cultural capital that will define him as a civilized person. In establishing the identity of tourist-as-connoisseur, the Tour gives a pattern to what has remained the standard form of culturally approved tourism. Today's guidebook, with its list of monuments and its advice on local purchases, is a direct descendant of Nugent's.