Grand Tour, The:

Poor Fitzwilliam Darcy never had the advantage of the Grand Tour, owing to the unpleasantness that existed between England and France from the time of the Revolution in 1789 to the various defeats of Napoleon in 1814 and 1815. But Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson most probably had the opportunity to visit Paris, Rome and Athens in their youths and almost certainly did, although by their time, the romance of the journey was considerably diminished by the ease of train travel. After all, it’s not so grand to take the same tour being enjoyed by the many through the offerings of the Thomas Cook and Son travel agency. We like to imagine, however, Emma and her Mr. Knightley and Elizabeth and Darcy enjoying the continent after Waterloo, still enjoying the romance of bumpy roads and being waylaid by bandits.

Television presenter Kevin McCloud in 2009 for Britain’s Channel Four looked back at the four centuries of the Grand Tour, from its beginning in the 1600s to its gradual “cheapening” by rail travel in the time of Queen Victoria. A central theme of these 48 minute episodes is that the neo-classical look of England is a synthesis of the experiences of the architects and builders who took their Grand Tours. From England’s first star architect Inigo Jones to Robert Adam to antiquities collector (although the Greeks might categorize him more harshly) Lord Elgin, generations of Englishmen learned about the civilizations that came before them and sometimes literally brought back that culture to England.

So the Grand Tour certainly influenced the Regency style of Jane Austen’s world, which is very evident in Inigo Jones’ promotion of the Palladian style, even if the men of Austen’s stories probably did not have the rewarding experiences of Paris, Genoa, Rome, Venice and Athens.

Unfortunately I cannot find the entire series at YouTube and can only offer you a taste in the clip above. Some of the episodes may still be viewable at Channel Four, but the entire series is available to watch instantly at Netflix. A companion book is also available.

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