“I still cherish the dream of returning for another revel in dear, dirty, delightful London, for I enjoyed myself there more than any where else,” wrote Louisa May Alcott in an 1868 letter to the friend who had shown her around Dickensian London.

Visiting the homes and haunts of famous writers is a time-honored tradition—one that intrigued some of the very authors whose own houses are now popular destinations for literary travelers.

After the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in 1868, fans of the book began trekking to Concord, Massachusetts, where the boldest ones knocked on the door of Orchard House, the Alcott family abode, looking for the author. Publicity-shy Louisa sometimes pretended to be a servant to deflect the attention, but she probably understood their curiosity. During a trip to London three years earlier, she visited sites featured in Charles Dickens’ tales. She revealed in her diary, “I felt as if I’d got into a novel while going about in the places I’d read so much of.”

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, a destination for early literary travelers.

Two decades before Louisa’s London sojourn, Charles Dickens helped raised funds to preserve Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. His signature appears in a facsimile copy of a visitors’ book along with those of other early sightseers, including Romantic poet John Keats. A glass windowpane also bears the etched signatures of other literati who stopped by to pay their respects to the Bard, one of whom was Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott.

Make like Dickens, Keats, and other literary luminaries and visit Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon.

I’m not sure how Nathaniel Hawthorne could fail to be impressed with Sir Walter Scott’s striking home, Abbotsford, in the Scottish countryside. “Its aspect disappointed me; but so does everything. It is but a villa, after all; no castle, nor even a large manor-house, and very unsatisfactory when you consider it in that light,” he petulantly penned in Passages from the English Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He did like aspects of the interior, including the weapons room where Rob Roy’s sword is on display, and the cozy study, where a servant invited him to sit in Scott’s writing chair so that he might “catch some inspiration.”

Seriously? Nathaniel Hawthorne was underwhelmed by Sir Walter Scott’s “conundrum castle.”

Close friends Edith Wharton and Henry James were much more enthusiastic about their spring 1907 pilgrimage to the 18th-century château of French feminist writer George Sand, whom they both admired. In her travelogue A Motor-Flight Through France, Wharton reminisced about the visit (her second) to Nohant. The house, she believed, led “straight into the life of George Sand.” While strolling through the dining room, Wharton imagined the conversations that took place there among Sand’s “illustrious visitors,” among them Gustave Flaubert and Alexandre Dumas.

Beginning in the 1830s, George Sand’s home was a hub of literary, artistic, and musical creativity.

Wharton and James also stood in the garden, gazing at the house and guessing which rooms famous guests might have occupied (some of whom, like composer Frederic Chopin, were also Sand’s lovers). True literary travelers, Wharton and James even christened the car in which they motored through France “George” in their predecessor’s honor.

[Photos: London, Orchard House, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Abbotsford © NovelDestinations.com; Nohant Wikimedia Commons/By SiefkinDR]

The wine will be flowing tomorrow evening at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, a toast to coincide with the opening of the feature film A Quiet Passion. Sex and the City alum Cynthia Nixon plays the part of Emily Dickinson in this biopic about the intriguing and famously reclusive poet’s life.

The movie was primarily shot in Belgium, where a replica of the Dickinson family residence, The Homestead, was recreated. The actual abode, a 200-year-old yellow brick house in Amherst where Dickinson lived for all but 15 of her 55 years, features in exterior scenes in A Quiet Passion.

Visitors to the museum can tour The Homestead—including Dickinson’s bedroom, where she did much of her writing—as well as The Evergreens, an Italianate-style house next door that was built for her brother and his wife in 1856.

Summertime visits are ideal for a stroll around the grounds, accompanied by an audio tour that integrates Dickinson’s poetry with the landscape. The green-thumbed wordsmith liked to garden, and more than a third of her poems feature floral references.

If you can’t make it when the flora is at its finest, consider stopping by in December for the annual Dickinson birthday festivities. The celebration includes coconut cake made from the poet’s own recipe.

The particulars: “A Toast to A Quiet Passion” takes place  at the Emily Dickinson Museum on April 14 from 5-6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. No reservations required. http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org

Watching the drama To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters is likely to cause literary wanderlust. (It airs Sunday, March 26, on PBS-Masterpiece.) The backdrop is the Yorkshire village of Haworth and the surrounding moors, a dramatically scenic landscape that helped inspire the novelist sisters’ page-turners Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Here are five things for bibliophiles to do in Brontë Country.

Visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Home to Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, along with their brother Branwell, was a Georgian parsonage in Haworth, where their father, Patrick, was appointed curate in 1820. Don’t miss the ink-stained table in the dining room, where the novelists gathered in the evenings to read aloud from their works-in-progress and brainstorm plot ideas. A replica of the c. 1800s parsonage, along with a side street and neighboring buildings, was created on a set outside of Haworth. www.bronte.org.uk

Ramble on the moors. Venture into Wuthering Heights territory as you follow in the sisters’ footsteps across the wind-swept moorland around Haworth. A 2.5-mile walk from town leads to the Brontës’ favorite destination, “the meeting of the waters.” There, Emily would recline on a slab of stone, today dubbed the “Brontë chair,” to play with tadpoles in the water. Continue on another mile to reach the stone ruins of an isolated farm known as Top Withens, credited as being the setting of Heathcliff’s domain in Wuthering Heights.

Have a pint at the Black Bull. At the top of a steep cobblestone street in the center of Haworth is the cozy, 300-year-old watering hole where wayward Branwell Brontë frequently whiled away the hours. Though a talented painter and poet, he was unable to hold a steady job and increasingly found solace in alcohol and opium. In an alcove up the stairwell, his favorite chair has been given pride of place.

Take the Passionate Brontës Tour. Stroll along Haworth’s historic cobbled streets and hear all about the village’s most famous family. Guides use the Brontës’ own letters, poems, and stories to illuminate their literary achievements, shed light on their personal passions and tragedies, and reveal what life was like in this tiny Yorkshire town during their day. www.brontewalks.co.uk

Read a book in the Brontë Meadow. Break out the dog-eared copy of your favorite Brontë novel that you toted along and read a passage or two. Adjacent to the museum, the Brontë Meadow has gorgeous views of the countryside and is a perfect introduction to the novelists’ territory, especially if you don’t have time for a lengthy walk on the moors.

 

For more about the Brontë sisters and the landscape that inspired them, check out the expanded and updated edition of NOVEL DESTINATIONS, which has a brand-new, in-depth narrative chapter about Brontë Country. Available May 2nd.

After Agatha Christie tied the knot with archaeologist Max Mallowan at an Edinburgh cathedral in 1930, they set out on an adventuresome journey. “Max had planned the honeymoon entirely himself; it was going to be a surprise,” Christie penned in An Autobiography.

Romantic Venice was the first stop for the newly wed crime writer. Christie had passed through the Italian city previously while traveling on the Orient Express from London to the Middle East, where she met her future husband on an archaeological dig.

“I resolved…that if ever I am so fortunate I shall spend my honeymoon here!” Max Mallowan once vowed about Venice. And indeed he hid.

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These writers and their partners had a flair for memorable gift-giving, from presents that pulled at the heartstrings to gifts that stirred up drama on and off the page.

Scarlett Fever: Margaret Mitchell

margaret-mitchell-typewriter

Margaret Mitchell received a life-altering gift from her husband while she was housebound recovering from a car accident. He presented her with a secondhand typewriter, a sheaf of paper, and the declaration, “Madam, I greet you on the beginning of a great new career.” That typewriter, which Mitchell used to craft her masterpiece, Gone with the Wind, is on view at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library.

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national-steinbeck-center-salinas-california

East Coast…Storied Getaway 

Library card-carrying bibliophiles looking for a getaway might want to consider Baron’s Cove hotel in Sag Harbor, New York, the seaside town where John Steinbeck spent the last years of his life. In honor of the writer’s 115th birthday on February 27, guests who present a library card will receive a special rate of $115/night in February and March. Book a stay for Sunday, February 26, and the next night is free. Plus the birthday perks don’t stop there. Toast your literary adventures with two complimentary Jack Rose cocktails, Steinbeck’s preferred libation. And you’re welcome to bring along a canine companion, just like Steinbeck did on the 1960 road trip he recounts in Travels with Charley when his French poodle pal rode shotgun.

West Coast…Cake and Kids’ Festivities

Meanwhile, in Salinas, California, the town where the Nobel Prize-winning author grew up, the National Steinbeck Center is hosting its annual birthday festivities. On Saturday, February 25, the always-fabulous and interesting museum has a variety of children’s activities planned throughout the day. A candle-topped birthday cake will be served at noon.

 

robert-burns-single-malt

Robert Burns Single Malt / Isle of Arran Distillers

Oh thou, my Muse! Guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
   In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp and wink,
   To sing thy name.
—Robert Burns, “Scotch Drink”

Haggis, neeps, and tatties are on the menu. Whisky, too, of course.

Lovers of Scottish culture the world over gather annually to celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, on January 25, 1759.  The first recorded Burns Night Supper honoring the poet (famed for poems such as “Tam O’ Shanter” and “Ode to Haggis”) took place in 1801 in his birthplace village of Alloway, and the evening’s line-up of toasts, poems, and bagpipe ditties has varied little ever since.

Revelers dine on a traditional meal of haggis (sheep organ meats blended with oatmeal and spices), neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes), washed down with copious drams of whisky. (Non-meat eaters can serve vegetarian haggis.) Festivities are capped off with the joining of hands and the singing of the bard’s great song of parting, “Auld Lang Syne.”

Restaurants, pubs, hotels, and dining halls all over Scotland host Burns Night Suppers. The occasion is also widely celebrated in the U.S. and Canada, so check to see if the wordsmith is being feted in your town.

Robert Burns App

If you’d like to host your own gathering, Scotland.org has a Burns’ Supper Guide with tips on food, drink, attire, and entertainment. The guide is included on a free Robert Burns App along with a biography, visual timeline of the bard’s life, and more than 500 poems and love songs.

pg-225-jane-austen-house-museum-chawtonIt’s always a great time for bibliophiles to explore England, which is the preeminent destination for literary travel. (More on that another time.) But because of all the milestone events taking place in 2017, VisitEngland has declared it the Year of Literary Heroes.

To mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s passing, head to the place where she spent the majority of her days. Beginning in March, “Jane Austen 200 – A Life in Hampshire” encompasses a variety of events, including special exhibits, talks, and activities at the Jane Austen’s House Museum (her last residence, see photo) in Chawton. Also on the agenda is Regency Week with music, dance, and more, and Big Picnics taking place across the area.

Harry Potter fans have plenty to celebrate, too. It’s hard to believe, but J.K. Rowling’s first book featuring the young wizard, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published twenty years ago in June. Among the festivities is a Harry Potter Film Concert Series, a live orchestral screening of the film version taking place at Royal Albert Hall in London and other cities throughout the country. In the fall, the British Library will be launching a new Harry Potter-themed exhibit, the first one it has mounted for a single series of books by a living author.

Among the other milestones being celebrated during the Year of Literary Heroes are the 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five children’s adventure novels; the 100th anniversary of wartime poet Edward Thomas’ death; the 125th anniversary of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s passing; and the 125th anniversary of master sleuth Sherlock Holmes’ debut.

Click here for more information about the Year of Literary Heroes. And start planning those itineraries.

Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Mr. Fezziwig, Bob Cratchit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the other colorful characters in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol were created during a six-week flurry of activity in late 1843. Here are a few ways, on both sides of the Atlantic, to celebrate the page-turner that has since become the quintessential holiday classic.

DickensLeechPML30615OGLE THE ORIGINAL

Dickens gifted the manuscript of A Christmas Carol to his solicitor, after having it bound in red Moroccan leather. The literary treasure was acquired by financier Pierpont Morgan in the 1800s, and in what is now an annual tradition, it’s put on display during the holiday season. Stop by the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City to see the spectacular volume, along with a first edition A Christmas Carol open to the title page and an engraved, hand-colored frontispiece of Mr. Fezziwig’s ball (see photo). The exhibit runs through January 8, 2017. A digital version of the hand-written manuscript can be perused online.

WHAT THE DICKENS?

Finish your holiday shopping while listening to a marathon reading of A Christmas Carol given by Téa Obreht, Elissa Schappell, and other writers and performers. On December 10, Housing Works Bookstore Café in New York City is hosting its seventh annual “What the Dickens?” event. The reading kicks off at 1 p.m. and ends about 4:30 p.m.

ALL-DAY FILM FEST

Get into the holiday spirit by watching one, two, or even all five screen adaptations of A Christmas Carol at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore on December 22. The film fest beings at 10:30 a.m. with the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim and ends with a 5:30 p.m. viewings of the comedy Scrooged starring Bill Murray. In between are three other showings, including the Spanish-language animated film Cuento de Navidad.

WATCH THE DRAMA UNFOLD

A Christmas Carol is being staged at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., until December 31. Showgoers can catch a performance of the spirited tale and also extend some generosity to those in need. This year the theatre has partnered with Food & Friends, an organization that delivers meals and groceries to those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses. At curtain calls during the production’s run, cast members are collecting monetary donations. Tiny Tim would be proud.

charles-dickens-museum-londonVISIT DICKENS’ ABODE

The Charles Dickens Museum in London goes all out with holiday festivities, including a Christmas Eve event that includes feasting on mince pies. Stop by throughout the month to see the house decked in greenery and decorations as it would have been during the writer’s day, learn about Victorian Christmas traditions, listen to readings of A Christmas Carol, and more. Visit DickensMuseum.com for details on times and ticket prices.

[photos: © Morgan Library and Museum, Charles Dickens Museum]

writers-walk-sydney-copy-copyAlong a harbor-side walkway in Sydney, Australia, in the shadow of the city’s iconic Opera House, some pedestrians paused to ponder what was written on bronze plaques embedded in the ground. But most people didn’t break stride, stepping on or over them without noticing what was beneath their feet. Just as I was walking by one plaque, a curious couple paused for a closer look. I stopped, too, and the name Robert Louis Stevenson jumped out.

The tribute is part of the Writers Walk, a series of 60 plaques leading around Sydney’s Circular Quay. Australian authors are commemorated, as well as other wordsmiths, like Stevenson, who visited or lived in the city. Each plaque features a brief biography and an excerpt of the author’s writing.

Stevenson sailed into Sydney on numerous occasions between 1890 and 1893. He spent the last years of his life in the South Pacific, eventually settling near Apia, Samoa. The abode he built on the island is now the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. When the adventurous scribe passed away in 1894 from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 44, Samoan natives he had befriended carried his body to a hilltop grave overlooking the sea.

Read about other unexpected literary connections:
https://noveldestinations.com/2011/01/01/unexpected-literary-connection-dorothy-l-sayers/
https://noveldestinations.com/2011/03/22/unexpected-literary-connection-charles-dickens/