The Visitor's Book and Victorian 'Quasi-Literature'

The Northrop Frye Centre Presents:
Kevin James Lecture April 11 2018

'Here You Will Find Humanity in Its Most Companionable State': The Visitors' Book and Victorian 'Quasi-Literature'

Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 4:00pm
Kevin James, NFC Visiting Fellow 
VC102, Old Vic, 91 Charles st. West

This paper explores the visitors’ book as a commodity, a technology, and a tool of self-and social-fashioning in the nineteenth century. Long overlooked as a travel text, the Victorian hotel visitors’ book illuminates reading, writing and travel practices, the expansion of album culture into institutions, and the burgeoning market for specialised hotel stationery in the second half of the nineteenth century. The hotel book was also subject to denigration in meta-narratives that charted its alleged descent from a inspired codicil associated with medieval monasteries and other places of elite travel, to the parlours of inns, where acts of reading and transcription were treated as mere distractions through wet days and dark nights. An analysis of its forms and functions illuminates the growth of the specialised hotel stationery market, reveals complex subjectivities of travel writers as they wrestled with this peculiar text, and also provides a window onto strategies of social and self fashioning enacted in its page.

Kevin James is Professor of History at the University of Guelph. He is author of two monographs, including Tourism, Land, and Landscape in Ireland: The Commodification of Culture (London: Routledge, 2014). He has published widely in journals and edited collections on the development of the tourism sector in the nineteenth-century United Kingdom. The recipient of numerous major national and international grants and fellowships, Kevin is deputy editor of the Journal of Tourism History, and founder of the Tourism History Working Group. His current research program explores the history of the hotel as a social, cultural, and commercial institution in Britain and Ireland from 1832-1922. As an extension of his SSHRC-funded project on hotel texts, Kevin is also currently engaged in a collaborative research program with Professor Patrick Vincent of the University of Neuchatel on visitors' books as historical sources.