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In the time of Jane Eyre, an aristocratic gentleman’s education did not end with secondary schooling. The final step in such an Englishman’s education was to take a Grand Tour of Europe. Thomas Nugent, an influential travel writer, describes the Grand Tour as "a custom so visibly tending to enrich the mind with knowledge, to rectify the judgment, to remove the prejudices of education, to compose the outward manners, and in a word form the complete gentleman" (Buzard 98). Throughout the novel, Rochester makes countless references to his travels and conquests on Continental Europe. In order to fully understand his disposition and character, it is necessary to examine this customary journey and its beneficial and in some cases detrimental effects on the young gentleman’s life. A tour of the Grand Tour will explain the life altering properties of such a voyage.
The Victorian Era brought about a great change in the social hierarchy in Brontë’s England. The economic windfall that followed industrial capitalism created new wealth outside of land ownership and brought about the rise of the middle classes (8; Introduction). While this allowed more middle-class tourists from England to travel to Europe, due to cost, most restricted their journeys to Paris and the Low Countries (Black 4-5). Only the truly rich could afford the entire itinerary of the Grand Tour. A common itinerary included Paris, Rome Venice, Florence, and Naples. Rome is recommended for those interested in viewing "numerous spectacles both entertaining and exciting or gruesome and pathetic" (Hibbert 170). Everything from celebrations to executions were held daily and most English travelers wouldn’t leave without witnessing one or the other. Paris and Rome were considered the most important of destinations while the other cities of Italy ranked a close second. Still other cities, like Vienna, while important, were matters of "personal preference, fashion, convenience, and the impact of external factors – war, political disorder and disease" (Black 5-6). These cities off the beaten path were also considerably more difficult to reach and because of this they were more expensive.
The greatest number of travelers began their journey in Paris before continuing south to Italy (Black 8). Italy itself posed a difficulty in that reaching it required either crossing the Alps or taking a sea route, with a majority taking the Alps (Black 19-20). The difficulty of crossing the Alps was vastly overrated. In most situations, travelers were placed in stretcher-like chairs and carried over the mountain (Hibbert 97).
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Where and when the traveler went was determined as much by internal as well as external factors. War played a large part in determining who went where. The fact is that travel in various countries requires the permission of said countries (Black 88). The right to travel within a country was issued at the country’s discretion and war usually became a good reason to both turn down a passport as well as for the traveler to not wish entry. As disputes formed between Britain and other countries, the likelihood that citizens of England would be safe in various countries at war, dropped. When war ended it was not uncommon to see exponential increases in travel (Black 93).
The actual methods of travel on the Grand Tour were as varied as the tour itself. Everything from boats, carriages, horseback, and even walking were popular in all combinations. Later in the eighteenth century it became common to bring transportation from home. Many found that the comforts and advantages of their own horses or carriages outweighed those of the public transport. Still many continued using what was available on the continent (Black 51). Those planning an extensive trip might even buy their transportation and sell it again upon their return in order to avoid the unreliable rental system (Hibbert 45). As the Grand Tour grew in popularity, the conditions of the roads were noticeably improved, making carriage use much more practical (Black 39).
The use of boats would have been limited to the tumultuous crossing of the English Channel and little else (Black 7). The channel voyage took anywhere from two to fourteen hours but always guaranteed that its passengers were happy to see land (Hibbert 42). The lack of canals and rivers flowing towards the destination cities as well as harsh winter weather seriously limited this form of transportation (Black 45-46). The trip often required a combination of the many modes of travel and consequently teaches the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Whatever methods used, the traveler would rather continue on to a larger city than have to find meager accommodations in rural areas. Lodging outside of large towns is usually associated with bugs, fleas, rats, and mice in addition to a general lack of comfort (Black 61). On the road, the comforts and niceties associated with home were simply not available. Travelers stuck between cities were left to sleeping in private residences if they were lucky and the floor of a barn if they were not. Hibbert mentions that even the rural inns that were "so vociferously recommended were abominable" (44). Some resorted to bringing travel beds along on their journeys should the situation arise (Black 61). In large cities like Paris, accommodations were often more extravagant, but the level of cleanliness remained low (Black 65). There were still bad hotels in Paris, but the average hotel in the city was far ahead of any rural inn (Hibbert 59). Living in such modest surroundings was expected to give those on the Tour a greater appreciation for what they have at home.
The next consideration of many an English traveler was how to feed ones self. The food in Europe was of a far better quality than the lodging and most travelers enjoyed the cuisine. Initially tourists made it a point to degrade the European cuisine but found as their palate adjusted they grew quite fond of it (Hibbert 51). Seasoned tourists felt that the griping over quality and preparation was exaggerated (Black 68). The wine was also considered quite pleasant by English standards but serious drinking was hindered by the general lack of good English beer (Black 83-84). Similarly, coffee and soft drinks were popular with tourists due to the freshness of their ingredients while the drinking water was considered sub par (Black 85). Perhaps it was better that tourists found both good coffee and a lack of quality beer. The alcohol that was available in Europe was considered both "inexpensive and easy to obtain" (Black 120). As pressure against alcoholism and its attached behavior were of little concern to most Europeans, many young British men gave in to their inhibitions and lived wild, unbridled lifestyles (Black 120). This vice was little known to the French who drank only moderate amounts and surprised them (Hibbert 56). Many of these tourists became far more concerned with drinking to excess, sexual promiscuity, and uncontrollable gambling rather than follow the true intention of their voyage (Black 121). Those back in England who heard of such behavior blamed both the improper supervision and the sending of boys rather than young men to Europe (Black 122). "Foreign travel filled the gap" nonetheless between completion of school and the receiving of a young man’s inheritance and managed to keep these men away from home while they outgrew their childish tendencies (Black 123).
The Grand Tour was also well known as a chance for its participants to sow their oats as they were "generally young, healthy, wealthy and poorly, if at all supervised" (Black 109). Due to the rampant spread of venereal disease, sexual exploits while abroad were frowned upon by those back home, but regarded as just another aspect of the trip (Black 109-110). The spread of disease had an insignificant effect on the enchanting qualities of the women to the British lads. Stories of the beautiful French women spread around England in the early seventeen hundreds with one newspaper reporting, "the English when at Paris, make Opera girls and actresses objects of idolatry" (Black 112). While the young men on the Grand Tour were expected to forget such heartache, the loss of money would prove more difficult to explain to his parents.
The money spent on mistresses was a concern, as was gambling. These figures were more often than not less expensive than the general expense of travel abroad. Money soon became the primary reason against sending young men on the Grand Tour, after the fear of the influence of Jacobitism and Catholicism had faded (Black 134).
The influence of Jacobitism and Catholicism were seen as important reasons as to why England should not be sending its impressionable young men to Europe (Black 189). As "Anti-Catholicism was the prime ideological stance in eighteenth century Britain", families were often scared to send their children to Continental Europe (Black 189). The idea formed out of ancient biases and the fact that England was often at war with Spain and France, both Catholic nations. The fact that Britain also allied with Catholic countries seemed to have no effect on these opinions (Black 189). This was not one sided as many tourists also reported "hostility to Protestantism" (Black 192). Black suggests "religion, as much as language, food and currency, helped to make the continent foreign" (202). The presence of a different religion is commonly one of the first things a visitor picks up on.
There was also more to the opera for these young men than getting to know the performers. The arts of Europe are sighted as a major reason for the Grand Tour. Italian opera and German orchestral music were at their height in popularity in eighteenth-century Britain and were an expected part of travel in Europe (Black 204). Thomas Nugent described the:
…operas at Paris extreamly fine, the music and singing excellent. The most sprightly and fashionable people of both sexes flock to these entertainment and listen with unrelaxed gravity and attention. (Hibbert 68)
Many tourists were known to alter their routes around Europe just so they might see as many operas as possible on their journey (Black 206). Typical city music was also enjoyed by the English while on tour where it could be found. Many British noted that London contained more sources of music than most foreign cities, although they liked what little they heard (Black 211).
The appreciation of paintings as well as music was an important one. It is not surprising to find out that "tourists were expected to bring home sketch-books from their tour as well as diaries" (Hibbert 169). Italian paintings were of particular interest to many British as "they were regarded as the best examples of their art" (Black 214). It was not unusual to find a tourist whose sole purpose of the trip was to see such Italian art. German and French paintings were also appreciated but not often in so high a regard (Black 218). The only thing that prevented the British from appreciating some of the artwork were their Catholic themes (Black 220).
The architecture abroad was another consideration for the Grand Tourist. Black tells us that:
Architectural ability was one of the attributes of gentility in eighteenth century Britain, and many members of the elite were knowledgeable enough to play a role in the construction or alteration of stately houses. (224)
This placed architecture as high on some young men’s lists as the opera or paintings. The tastes in the various forms of architecture in Europe differed from person to person but "in general, there was a preference for the classical over the Gothic that led most tourists to ignore or dislike the architecture of Germany, most of provincial France, and some of northern Italy" (Black 225).
The trip abroad is an important one in the life of a young gentleman if it used to its extent. The shift from travel as a learning experience to a pleasure experience demoted the value of the journey (Black 247). Those who defend tourism couldn’t use enjoyment as an excuse for something that cost so much and used deceptive tactics to forward their journey (Black 233). Those who denounce tourism cannot put a value on teaching their children about the world outside of England (Black 242). Perhaps a balance of the two extremes would provide the best solution. Travel for enjoyment and cultural enlightenment will most likely create the most balanced individual.
Black, Jeremy. The British and The Grand Tour. London: Croom Helm, 1985.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Beth Newman. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.
Buzard, James. The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to Culture, 1800-1918. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1993.
Hibbert, Christopher. The Grand Tour. London: Methuen, 1987.