- Anglo-American Travelers and the Hotel Experience in Nineteenth-Century Literature: Nation, Hospitality, Travel Writing ed. by Monika M. Elbert, Susanne Schmid
Edited by Monika M. Elbert and Susanne Schmid
Routledge, 2017. 298 pp. $27.48 paper
In 1794 the City Hotel in New York opened its doors to guests for the very first time (130). Considered among the foremost of the grand hotels, its [End Page 79] construction arguably marks the beginning of the modern tourist industry. The following century saw a growing number of grand hotels in the bigger cities of America and Europe, and by 1893 the “mother of modern hotels” had been constructed in Manhattan: the Waldorf-Astoria, an emblem of the Gilded Age with its enormous sixteen stories and thirteen hundred bedrooms (Hungerford 92, qtd. on 131). These monstrous hotels were indicative of the particular anxieties that marked this period of mobility, modernity, and mechanization, their luxurious bulks encroaching on traditional social and gender norms of the nineteenth century.
Monika M. Elbert and Susanne Schmid’s Anglo-American Travelers and the Hotel Experience in Nineteenth-Century Literature: Nation, Hospitality, Travel Writing provides an exploration of the nineteenth-century hotel culture that brings these anxieties to the fore. The essays in the volume offer historical and cultural approaches to the fiction, diaries, and travel accounts of the nineteenth-century “touring public” (Williams, qtd. on 238). The collection is divided into five thematic parts: “Nationalism and Imperialism: The Hotel and Guidepost to National Interests”; “The Mundane vs. The Supernatural: Domesticity, Danger, or Mystery in Hotels”; “From Comfort to Capitalist Excess: The Evolving Hotel Experience as Status Symbol”; “Assignations, Trysts and Memorable Encounters in Hotels”; and “Women’s Travels and the Hotel as a Nexus between Public and Private Realms.” The preoccupations of these titles illustrate the ambiguous and unstable environment of the hotel, inn, and boardinghouse. At once both transitional and domestic, public and private, open and closed, impersonal and familiar, these spaces/places function for the authors as cultural metaphors, sites of shifting cultural meaning. The essays in this volume check their readers in to nineteenth-century hotels in order to explore how these public/private spaces both construct and deconstruct the social, national, and gendered identities of their visitors.
Elbert and Schmid’s insightful introduction places the volume into context, giving the reader a rich history of hotels, those who traveled through them, and the ways in which these spaces have been written about in literature and contemporary hotel theory. It goes on to draw attention to the hotel’s permeability, its “permanent state of coming and going” (Sandoval-Strausz 142, qtd. on 6), and “particularly the liminality of hotel space on which literature resounds” (6). Keven J. James’s afterword notes how this notion of liminality “threads through” the rest of the collection (279), and indeed many articles respond to the hotel as a space of liberation from socially constructed frameworks and the possibilities [End Page 80] this provokes. Questions of oppression and transgression are familiar to any Wharton scholar, and Carole M. Shaffer-Koros (“Edith Wharton’s American and French Hotels: A Permeable Private/Public Space”) notes the recurrent trope of the hotel as “a site of social conflict” in Wharton’s writing (222). This detail is perhaps unsurprising when we consider how Wharton grew up in the “hotel confinement” of her European tours, as well as how her life and fiction were afterwards shaped by her conception of hotel culture and her own movement through these spaces as an adult (222).
Perhaps Edith Wharton’s most notorious connection to a hotel was the night spent with Morton Fullerton in the Charing Cross Hotel in 1909, later captured by her poem “Terminus.” Shaffer-Koros has called the poem “a curious blend of public and private” (232), and it is this tension between public and private space that gives the thrust to Anglo-American Travelers and the Hotel Experience. Tamara S. Wagner outlines Charles Dickens’s horror when he realizes his American hotel is but a “showcase” where he can be seen...