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Professor Researches Literary Tourism, Victorian Women Writers

Literary tourism - visiting the homes and haunts of literary figures - became a common practice in England at the end of the 18th century. Not long after, woman authors such as George Elliot, the Brontë sisters, and Harriet Martineau, gained widespread popularity in England and abroad.

These two phenomena have provided a wealth of research material for Pamela Corpron Parker, associate professor of English and director of the Women's Studies program at Whitworth. Under a grant from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Parker and her colleagues have visited landmarks and analyzed materials ranging from train schedules and postcards to newspaper articles and guidebooks for a forthcoming book tentatively titled Literary Tourism and the Victorian Woman Writer.

What they found, Parker says, is that literary sites of male authors more often displayed relics related to the subject's professional life while relics of female authors tended to reflect the subject's personal and domestic life. For example, curators of Charles Dickens' home display the author's library and writing desk whereas curators of the Brontë Parsonage must contend every year with requests to display the authors' undergarments.

"It has to do with how the 19th century viewed woman writers as primarily private figures, even if they outsold their male peers," says Parker, who joined Whitworth's faculty in 1997. "While writers' homes and relics frequently provide insight into their lives, they often create myths that distort literary history, too."

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