The British Traveller and Dark Tourism in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Scandinavia and the Nordic Regions

  • Kathryn Walchester


The north has, since Classical times, been regarded as a place of darkness, horror, and even hell. “The journey northward is imagined as a journey into unimaginable barbarism”, notes Peter Davidson in his account of the Roman geographer Strabo (The idea of north. Reaktion, London, 2005). The connection between evil and the north pertained into the eighteenth century when travellers, such as Charles Boileau Elliott, were inspired to note the “death-like” aspect of Scandinavia and its northern extremes which experienced perpetual day light and darkness (Letters from the north of Europe, or a journal of travels in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Prussia, and Saxony. Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, London, 1832). Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century tourism to the north featured much of the same thanatoptic impulses as that of other European destinations, including an interest in graveyards and funereal rituals as part of a more general account of cultural practice. Discourses around thanatouristic sites in Scandinavia and the Nordic regions also reflect popular contemporary modes such as the Gothic and accounts of national histories. However, the geography of the region had an impact on the chronology and the focus of some aspects of thanatouristic practice. The main challenge to travel to Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland before the mid-nineteenth century was the fact that sea travel was unreliable and dangerous before steamship lines were established. Travel across the interior of many Scandinavian and northern countries was arduous because of the lack of infrastructure and difficult terrain. Thus, as a whole, tourism to the north was slower to develop than that of southern Europe. The other factor, partially connected to the first, was that a widespread interest by the British in the history, culture, and literature of the north did not become fully established until the latter part of the nineteenth century, compared to the culture of Italy and Greece, where an interest in the classics had been evident from the beginning of the eighteenth century. In the middle of the nineteenth century prompted by newly established steamship routes to transport emigrating Scandinavians to America, there was a considerable increase in the numbers of British travellers visiting the region. Many more middle-class travellers made the journey, and among them were significant numbers of women. Following the region’s success in attracting travellers for sport tourism, to hunt and to fish in the first part of the century, a number of large hotels had been built on the Scandinavian Peninsula to accommodate travellers, and an infrastructure of steamships across its fjords and railways was established. Later in the period, travellers began to focus in greater numbers on the region’s culture and history in their writing, inspired by the translation of sagas in Britain and extensive archaeological work, such as that conducted by Hjalmar Stolpe on the Viking centre of Birka near to Stockholm. The geographical focus of this chapter extends beyond the Scandinavian Peninsula, referring out to travel literature which addresses Iceland, Denmark, and Finland (see Hall et al., Nordic tourism: issues and cases. Channel View, Bristol, 2009). Travel to Iceland saw a similar, if slightly delayed, pattern of that to Scandinavia, with a concentration of travelogues produced in the 1860s and 1870s, which focused on the effects of volcanic eruptions and the sites of Viking sagas.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn Walchester
    • 1
  1. 1.Liverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK

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