AGORA

Travelling Communities: Irreverence and Class Tension in the Late-Victorian Visitors’ Book

Alan McNEE

As access to leisure time and travel expanded in the late nineteenth century, a greater number of Victorians from a wider section of society were able to take holidays in their own country (and to a lesser extent on Continental Europe). The visitors’ books of hotels and inns where these visitors stayed provide a rich source of material about their travel experiences, the attitudes and values they brought with them and the inter-class antagonisms which often surfaced as a result of the enforced proximity of very different visitors in these establishments. Visitors’ books provided a rare unedited and unmediated opportunity for people of all backgrounds to record their impressions, and sometimes to poke fun at their fellow travellers. For the historian, they provide evidence of a virtual community of travellers and tourists, sharing information and impressions and sometimes expressing discontent, irreverence, and impatience with each other and with the whole experience of travel.  This paper draws on extensive archival research in the visitors’ books of British inns and hotels that were popular with visitors in the late nineteenth century, demonstrating how common irreverence and debunking are in this neglected sub-genre of travel writing.

Keywords:  Travel, tourism, irreverence, leisure, mountaineering, visitors’ books.

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