‘I remember being much amused last year, when landing at Calais,’ wrote Mrs Frances Trollope in her 1835 book, Paris and the Parisians, ‘at the answer made by an old traveller to a novice … making his first voyage. “What a dreadful smell!” said the uninitiated stranger … “it is the smell of the continent, sir!” replied the man of experience. And so it was.’
Historians James Munson and Richard Mullen examine just what it was about the smell of the continent that so attracted British travellers in the hundred years from the fall of Napoleon to the outbreak of the First World War. It was the first time in history that the British, en masse, set out to discover Europe. Drawing on contemporary accounts, diaries and letters, Munson and Mullen offer a compelling portrait of the Victorians abroad, many of them convinced that their country was not only vastly superior but also the envy of the world. Their attitudes to foreign food,modes of transport and habits were often as uncharitable then as now and complaints about ‘beastly abroad’ abound. But there were also those intrepid souls who were genuinely interested in other countries what they could learn from them. 'The Smell of the Continent' vividly reveals that the gulf between the ‘traveller’ and the ‘tourist’ was as wide in our great-grandparents’ time as it is today.