Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Literary pilgrimages

This past weekend, my husband and I made a pilgrimage to Concord, Massachusetts. I've been planning the trip since I first found out I was moving to Massachusetts. Little Women is one of my favorite books, and I can't help but see myself in the novel's young, fiery-tempered writer, Jo, and the author herself, Louisa May Alcott.

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House
The best part was walking up to Orchard House, seeing its crooked beams, its front door, imagining Alcott and her family in every nook and cranny. And they were! The interior walls were covered with pencil sketches by the youngest daughter, the artist May. I saw the room where the sisters hung their curtain, and performed their theatrics. I saw Rodrigo's boots! And Alcott's writing desk. Unfortunately, the tour was quite disappointing--obnoxious children touching original furniture, a tour guide who seemed to be reciting a speech rather than passionately telling stories, and little more information than I could've garnered off Wikipedia. But I've spent the past several days thinking about the house, remembering everything I saw, and most of the disappointment has evaporated. There's something special, almost magical, about standing in the same place as someone you admire. As if the very floor beams are infused with her genius, spirit, and love.

Stones marking the foundation of Thoreau's cabin
Phil and I also visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (where Emerson, Thoreau, the Alcotts, and Hawthorne are all buried), and walked around Walden Pond, a pilgrimage for Phil's sake. Walden Pond is now a state park, and I imagine it would please Thoreau immensely that the forest's beauty has been preserved and continues to be enjoyed--though thankfully we were there completely out of tourist season! And I have to say, seeing Phil soak in Thoreau was almost as special as visiting Orchard House myself.

Walden Pond
As someone who's traveled a lot, I've been lucky enough to see several other writers' homes: Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen. I visited Whitby, and saw not only Bram Stoker's home, but the setting for Dracula. When in Paris, inspired by the movie Midnight in Paris, I dragged my husband and an old friend on a walking tour around the city; we saw F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda's home, Gertrude Stein's, and Hemingway's, as well as some of their favorite hang-outs. And living in Amherst, I've of course visited Emily Dickinson's house (twice, actually--that tour is amazing, if you ever get the chance).

But lately I've been thinking, what other pilgrimages are on my list? Are there other homes that would mean as much to me as Orchard House? I think the places most important for me to visit are the ones that are mentioned in the novels, that are filled with the author's spirit: Dicken's London for example, or Stoker's Whitby. I regret not seeing Roald Dahl's house and writing hut in Oxfordshire, and Charlotte Bronte's home on the moors. Ever since I read For Whom the Bell Tolls, I've been imagining visiting Hemingway's home in Key West. And while I've been to DC numerous times, I only recently learned that one can visit the Frederick Douglass house. That's on my list, too. And that's probably only scratching the surface.

What literary pilgrimages have you made? And where would you love to go?

Thoreau's grave, Concord, Mass

*All photos taken by me or Phil.

10 comments:

  1. Beautiful post, Anne! You have had the priviledge of visiting the homes of so many wonderful authors! As a child, I visited the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder and was thrilled beyond words. As an adult, I've visited the birthplace of Shakespeare and the home of Carl Sanburg. There are so many more pilgrimages that I would like to make! Thanks for sharing yours!

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    1. Ohhh, Laura Ingalls Wilder would be pretty cool! But yes, I really have been blessed.

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  2. So beautiful. And so cccc-cold.

    My excursions were to Bath, England, and also on the heels of The Maltese Falcon (my back yard, SF) - but I dream of St. Petersburg in the dead of winter. It's just that it is better in a dream than an actual-factual visit- they tell me. Also, poor Anna Karenina died a log time ago…

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    1. It actually WASN'T that cold (above freezing during the day! ;) ), but as I was posting those pictures I was thinking it looked a little snowy--especially for LATE MARCH!

      Not many people dream of St. Petersburg in the dead of winter... *shiver* Though I should say, my husband went on a Raskolnikov (Crime & Punishment) tour in Moscow!

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  3. I've been to Walden Pond and Orchard House, too. I'm sorry your tour guide didn't measure up. Both are lovely, inspiring places. I especially loved Louisa's writing nook upstairs. We didn't make it to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Had I known about it, we would have.
    Over Christmas, my family travelled to Oxford, MS and toured William Faulkner's house. It's beautifully preserved and peaceful, and he had outlines of one of his books on his writing room wall (I blogged about this trip on a post I wrote in January). If you're looking for a place to make a literary pilgrimage, this town is it. It has four bookstores on the historic square and very cool shops and places to eat.
    T

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Dawn! Honestly, I'm almost tempted to go back to Orchard House and play tour guide roulette. Surely the next one HAS to be better! ;)

      You know, I've always heard good things about Faulkner's house. Can't think when I might be in Mississippi, but it's definitely going on the mental list! Thanks!

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  4. Wow, you've been to a lot of literary landmarks, Anne. I'm not one for travel, but if I could teleport there and back, I would like to see the homes of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot. Staying closer to home, I've been to the home of Thornton W. Burgess. I hear that Edward Gorey's house is worth the trip, although I haven't made it there yet.

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    1. Teleportation technology would make everything better. ;)

      Oh, I can imagine Gorey's house being neat! Off to Google it, thanks!

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  5. What wonderful authors' houses and resting places you've visited! I haven't been to any's, but if I would to pick, Emily Dickinson's house and Ray Bradbury's grave (I'll get him a bouquet of flowers) would be it.

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    1. Ohhh, Ray Bradbury's would be really cool. I wonder if that's a thing yet... surely it will be eventually.

      And yes, Dickinson's house really is lovely. I'm kicking myself that I didn't blog about it after my visit.

      I did feel a little empty handed visiting these places. Would've been nice to bring a little something for Alcott. I love the pine cones on Thoreau's grave.

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