Living the Legacy: The European Grand Tour

January 29, 2016

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, lengthy trips through the European Continent were au de rigueur among British socialites. In her upcoming class, “The Grand Tour: Readings From Abroad”, Anna Saikin has recreated this rich legacy by following a literary itinerary that highlights the people, places, and ideas that made this period of travel so extraordinary. We checked in with Saikin to find out more.

WIH Reporter:  What is important for us to know about the Grand Tour?

Saikin: The Grand Tour was not exactly a scholarly and religious pilgrimage, but rather a pleasurable means of visiting the cultural capitols of the modern world. It was common, indeed highly desirable, to run into one’s acquaintances while abroad. Our class will serve as an introduction to eighteenth and nineteenth century literature through the lens of the cultural and social practices that emerge from the Grand Tour’s rich legacy.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the “institution” of the Grand Tour?

Saikin: Many people picture the Grand Tour as a late eighteenth century rite of passage, but the earliest accounts of tourists dates from the 1660s. The practice flourished during the neoclassical age as interest in Greek and Roman ruins was heightened, through the romantic period, when tourists were equally interested in the aesthetic aspects of traveling in the Swiss Alps as well as in art work.

WIH Reporter: What literary personas and interesting facts are in store for those of us fascinated by the literary Grand Tour?

Saikin: While the many tourists were wealthy young men, people from all walks of life took a Grand Tour for educational or social purposes. Men and Women, young and old, traveled from England and American to Continental Europe for a variety of purposes. Mary Shelley, for instance, took a Grand Tour when she eloped with Percy Shelley in 1816; it was during this trip that she penned the first draft of Frankenstein, later published in 1818. 

WIH Reporter: What format do you plan to use in the class?

Saikin: Our six-week class will mimic the itinerary used by the English nobility in the eighteenth century. Each week we will travel to a new “country” through art works and literary selections seen on or written during the Grand Tour. Our first week begins in Paris; from there, we will virtually tour Geneva, Switzerland; Florence; Venice; Naples; and Munich (Germany).

Anna Saikin’s class begins on March 1st, at 1:00 pm and continues for 6 weeks. To find out more about the class or to register, click here.