In “Wuthering Heights”, Emily Brontë wrote: “In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society”.
Literature has the power to make us travel during lockdowns, even if we can only see the outside world through the window in our rooms. But is this still the case today, now everything is accessible through a screen?
The past few months have shown us that human beings need to be creative. Whether by walking the dog or sitting down and reading a novel, every breath of fresh air is essential for maintaining good mental health.
John McLeod, Professor of Postcolonial and Diaspora Literature at the University of Leeds, said: “Literature is always a form of mobility. You are transported outside of the arrogance of your own identity. You are transported outside of your own language, your own culture, your own nation. Even if I am reading a book set in West Yorkshire, two miles away, I am still being transported out of my own kind of environment.
“What the pandemic has reminded us is how absolutely crucial culture is to provide those transports and to remind us of how much contact and motion are at the heart of human life”.
This idea is shared by students. Millie Clarke, student of English Literature at The University of Sheffield, explained many people doubted her career options in the future, but her passion was stronger than those concerns.
She said: “I like it when it feels like you are genuinely experiencing a new place through a book. If I am genuinely interested in the people of the novel, then I want to share in their experiences.
“I want to see the things they have seen, feel like I am walking where they might have walked. Even though I know they are not real, it adds a bit of grounding to a narrative. We are wired to want to believe any piece of literature at least to a certain extent.”
In a country with so many great writers, inspiration comes from all over the UK. Moorlands, castles, lighthouses, forests, communities and the sea have influenced authors from different generations and styles.
Haworth, West Yorkshire
Yorkshire’s landscapes have been the inspiration for many stories. One of the most well-known is “Wuthering Heights”, the bleak setting of which was inspired by the moorlands near Haworth.
The author’s house, Haworth Parsonage, gave her the perspective of two different worlds. The romantic, idyllic environment of the British countryside, but also the industrialised landscape of the city.
John Bowen, Professor of 19th century literature at the University of York, told the British Library: “Nature is often deeply inhospitable in the book, not easily subdued to human purpose, comfort or design. Landscape is thus never simply a setting or something to be contemplated in Brontë’s work, but an active and shaping presence in the lives of its characters.”
Today, people walk around these moorlands to feel close to the story and its characters.
“The inspiration for a lot of the Brontë and a couple of the Austen books is quite close to Sheffield, so I enjoy going to see those. I have not studied it for a couple of years but the moorland around Yorkshire was an inspiration for Wuthering Heights’ setting. It is always in my mind when I go for a walk there.”, said Ms Clarke.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s connections with Warwick are often overlooked. However, places like the Warwick castle and its surroundings left their mark on “The Lord of the Rings” by providing an inspiration for the Elven forest.
The author married Edith Bratt at St Mary’s Immaculate Roman Catholic Church and the city provided multiple romantic breaks for the couple. Tolkien’s love of trees, hills and Warwick’s mystical landscapes is crucial to his book.
“There are some writers, past and present, for whom the specifics of place are especially important and distinctive. For other writers perhaps their engagement with landscape would be less obvious but is also present. There is always a relationship between place and writer”, stated Prof McLeod.
Shakespeare’s birthplace is a ‘must-see’ in the literary tourism across the UK. The playwriter divided his life between London and Stratford-Upon-Avon. His wife and children remained in Stratford while he was pursuing his professional career in the capital.
The area influenced the Forest of Arden in “As You Like It”. The author also learned about nature and flowers, which were later two very important subjects in his plays, while he was growing up in the countryside.
Sally Gray, education officer at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: “[Shakespeare’s] ability to explore human emotions and the creative language he used to describe the human spirit remains relevant today. His words provide a wonderful vehicle for children to discuss human attributes such as resilience and self-esteem and to explore their own characteristics, feelings and identities.”
London’s multiculturalism makes it a perfect setting for contemporary novels. Zadie Smith, one of the most significant figures of our generation, sees London’s environment as a powerful inspiration.
“London is an essential element of her writing. That urban environment, that urban landscape and its very multicultural dimension as well as its visible appearance. These things are essential to Zadie’s art. Zadie Smith without London would be kind of unimaginable.”, explained Prof McLeod.
Another writer, Bernardine Evaristo, who won the Booker Prize in 2019, addresses the struggles of a mixed-race girl in London in her novel “Lara”. The inspiration came after Evaristo grew up as the only black girl at her school in Woolwich.
St. Ives, Cornwall
The last stop on this literary tour is St. Ives in Cornwall.
The seacoast city is hugely important for the work of Virginia Woolf. Her book “To the Lighthouse”, although set on the Isle of Skye, is said to have been influenced by Woolf’s summer trips to Cornwall.
“I also love the escapism of storytelling and how you can stop thinking about the crazy world around you for a while and just focus on the world in the story you are reading”, said Amy Kinsella, an English student from The University of Leeds.
Want to discover more about these famous locations? Check out the interactive map below.