The classic literary world includes some curious connections between scribes who lived decades, and sometimes centuries, apart.

Frederick Douglass and Charles Dickens

On the grounds of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., is a tiny stone cabin where Douglass retreated to read and write in solitude. He dubbed the one-room dwelling the “Growlery,” a termed coined by Charles Dickens in Bleak House. In the novel, Mr. Jarndyce speaks with his ward, Esther, in a small room filled with books and papers, boots and shoes, and hat-boxes. “This, you must know, is the Growlery. When I am out of humor, I come and growl here,” says Mr. Jarndyce. “When I am deceived or disappointed in—the wind, and it’s Easterly, I take refuge here. The Growlery is the best-used room in the house.”

Frederick Douglass’ “growlery,” or writing cabin. Photo: © NPS/Johnson.

Charles Dickens and Shakespeare

American circus owner P.T. Barnum once proposed buying Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, dismantling it brick by brick, and relocating the Tudor-style dwelling to the United States. Literary luminary Charles Dickens and others objected, forming a committee and raising funds to save the Bard’s birthplace from such an undignified fate. A facsimile copy of a visitors’ book with Dickens’ signature is on display there today, along with that of John Keats and other famous visitors. Art later imitated life in Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickelby as Mrs. Wititterly declares, “I don’t know how it is, but after you’ve seen the place and written your name in the little book, somehow or other you seem to be inspired; it kindles up quite a fire within one.”

Shakespeare’s birthplace.

 Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and Emily Brontë

In 1956, newlywed poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes ventured to Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, in West Yorkshire, England. The couple spent the day visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum and rambling on the desolate, brooding moors, the setting of Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights. Plath and Hughes each later wrote a work titled “Wuthering Heights.” Plath crafted her darkly haunting version in 1961, one year before she split with Hughes and seventeen months before her suicide. Hughes’s poem “Wuthering Heights,” in which he compares his wife to the mythic and tragic Emily Brontë (who died of tuberculosis at age thirty), appeared the year he died in 1998 in the collection Birthday Letters.

The West Yorkshire Moors. Photo: ©

Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Arthur Conan Doyle

“A Woman Novelist Vanishes” was one of the headlines trumpeted by newspapers across England in December 1926, after Agatha Christie disappeared and sparked a massive nationwide manhunt. Christie’s fellow mystery writers, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers, were among those that consulted on the case. Doyle enlisted the aid of a medium, who handled one of Christie’s gloves and pronounced that the wearer would be found alive. Sayers got in on the action by visiting the wooded area where Christie was last seen and writing a piece about the case for a newspaper. She correctly contradicted police brass by declaring that she didn’t believe Christie’s body would be found in the woods. Although neither Doyle nor Sayers cracked the case, a possibly amnesiac Christie was discovered at a hotel eleven days later.

The Old Swan hotel, Harrogate, England, where Agatha Christie was discovered after an 11-day disappearance. Photo: © Old Swan.

John Steinbeck and Robert Louis Stevenson

The title of John Steinbeck’s road trip memoir Travels with Charley: In Search of America was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, an account of his trek through the mountains in south-central France. But before Steinbeck even got behind the wheel of his camper-truck and drove the U.S. from coast to coast, he gave a nod to his literary predecessor in The Pastures of Heaven. In the story, avid reader Junius Maltby believes Stevenson’s essays are “nearly the finest things in English; he read Travels with a Donkey many times.”

Rocinante, John Steinbeck and Charley’s ride, is parked at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California.