9 Books and Films Inspired by the Grand Tour

From Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' to John Hughes' 'National Lampoon'

Be it created on the Grand Tour, or inspired by the romance of Italy that the Grand Tour created, these 9 artistic works show how this idea of Romantic travel provided creative inspiration for centuries – and continues to inspire us in the present day.

1. Francis Bacon's 'Of Travel', 1625

When the notable statesman Francis Bacon went on his 3-year journey across Europe, little did he know that the travel advice he had for his 17th-century readers would be just as valuable to those of the 21st century. Francis Bacon’s sound advice in his writings "Of Travel" paved the way for the young men and women who set out on their Grand Tours, and in the process he also became a pioneer in travel writing.

Bacon’s advice became a pocket guidebook of sorts, which still resonates today. Some of his travel tips were:

- Keep a travel journal, but not at the expense of experience
- Get to know a local and have them show you around
- Travel with people you get along with
- See the sights and rarities of your destination, like monuments & churches
- Never forget your trip. But never show off either when you’re home again.

2. Edward Gibbon's 'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', 1776

At the ripe age of 26, after already publishing his first work Essays on the Study of Literature, Edward Gibbon embarked on the European journey of Enlightenment which had become a rite of passage for any wealthy, educated, young British man. Gibbon went on to complete other literary works, but the one work which gave him fame throughout centuries is the one that would take over a decade to complete – The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: 1776 - 1788.

Gibbon’s book was inspired by the surrounding temple-lined Roman Forum, ancient cobblestones where Julius Caesar once ruled, and the early legends of Romulus and Remus, the wolf-raised founders of Rome. The 3-volume book which takes you on a journey from Augustus to Constantinople is the product of a European tour of a lifetime. This work set Gibbon apart and sealed his position as a legendary writer of the Grand Tour.

3. Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', 1816

It’s a common anecdote that Mary Shelley conceived of Frankenstein (also known as The Modern Prometheus) to win a bet while traveling through Europe on a Grand Tour of sorts with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron.

Shelley’s subtle references to her travels can be found throughout the novel. For example, Shelley decided to have Frankenstein (who in actual fact is the doctor, not the monster) be born in Naples, Italy; raised in Geneva, Switzerland and travel around to London, Paris and throughout Europe. An interesting note of the times considering the railways hadn’t yet become “tourist-friendly”.

4. Johann Wolfgang Goethe's 'Italian Journey', 1816

It’s impossible to speak about literature inspired by the Grand Tour and not speak about one of the most well-known writers from the Grand Tour – J.W. Goethe. Italian Journey is perfectly titled as it takes us through Goethe’s many adventures in quite a vivid fashion since the book is actually based on Goethe’s travel diaries.

Goethe often boasted of his life-altering experiences during the Grand Tour, and was one of the many European travelers who seemed to have had an epiphany during his journey through art, culture and sun. A travel itinerary of sorts, the Italian Journey takes you through Verona, Rome, Naples, Sicily and more – seeing Italy through the eyes of an enthusiast.

5. Mark Twain's 'The Innocents Abroad', 1869

Mark Twain was one of the last literary greats to follow in the footsteps of the Grand Tour adventure-seekers. His trip to Europe by boat in 1867 is often referred to as the “Great Pleasure Excursion” and it’s all chronicled in the travel book he called The Innocents Abroad, which was to become one of the most prominent pieces of travel literature in American history. Twain covered his journey from the Paris Exhibition 1867, to Rome, all the way to the Holy Land.

Twain aimed to reach out to a wider audience, and this bestselling chronicle of an American’s perspective of Europe did just that. And has continued to do so for over a century.

6. 'Room with a View', directed by James Ivory, 1985

Lucy Honeychurch, played by Helena Bonham Carter, and her tutor Charlotte Bartlett, played by Maggie Smith, spend some formative time in Florence in an Italian pensione where Lucy meets George Emerson, played by Julian Sands. George seems to have been freed of his restrictive expectations, finding both himself, love and Lucy in Italy. It’s a film centering on culture, passion and, of course… the Arno River, Florence. It's perspective on Italy owes a lot to the culture of the Grand Tour.

7. 'National Lampoon’s European Vacation', directed by Amy Heckerling, 1985

John Hughes may have been famous for capturing the true essence of the coming-of-age teenage years, but he clearly applied the same approach to capturing the essence of the Grand Tour in the comedy, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. The film had all the makings of a “modern Grand Tour of Europe” with multiple city stops in London, Paris, a West German village, Rome, and many of the monuments you may have seen in an 18th century Grand Tour manual.

8. 'Enchanted April', directed by Mike Newell, 1991

The name of this film says it all. Inspired by the the idea of Italian paradise inherent in the Grand Tour, the story is about 4 London women who embark on a “soul searching” journey to Italy. They rent an Italian castle, leave their former lives, and get away from it all for a bit of enlightenment à la Grand Tour.

9. 'A Month at the Lake', directed by John Irvin, 1995

One of the highlights of the Grand Tour was sex and romance. And that’s exactly what you get from this romantic comedy with a cast including Uma Thurman, Vanessa Redgrave and Alessandro Gassman. One month at Lake Como is more than enough to find love and a sense of freedom – both famous products of Italy.

Words by Louise Vinciguerra
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