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“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]

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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Almost 420 years since Shakespeare’s lavish and magnificent house, New Place, was razed to the ground, archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the Bard’s demolished kitchen.

Uncovered in the remains of  Stratford-upon- Avon’s ‘New Place’, experts have found a well hearth and cold storage pit, which was used like a fridge to store cheese.

Historians are still trying to piece together clues of what Shakespeare’s impressive home would have been like and this discovery has been described as ‘vital’ to the effort.

The Bard bought New Place in 1597 and lived there for the last 19 years of his life, but it was destroyed by a subsequent owner in a fit of pique over land taxes.

In 2016–timed for the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death–the re-imagined New Place will open as a heritage landmark.

Twain Boyhood Hometwain-house-2

This Monday, November 30, is the 180th anniversary of the day Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) arrived in the world, and the occasion is being celebrated at two literary sites associated with the writer.

Mark TwainTwain’s distinctive facial feature is being touted during a birthday bash at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum (above left) in Hannibal, Missouri. Part of the festivities include a Mustache Contest with categories such as the “Mark Twain” for the one that bears the greatest resemblance to the writer’s own (dubbed the Walrus) and the “Dapper Stache,” the one most full of character and originality (styling aids are encouraged). November 28, 1 p.m. There is a $5 fee to enter the contest, and prizes will be awarded to the winners.

The Mark Twain House & Museum (above right) in Hartford, Connecticut, is hosting a reading of “Colonel Sellers: Reanimated,” based on one of the writer’s forgotten pieces—with a twist. Steampunk and zombie stories like The Walking Dead are currently in vogue, but Twain was well ahead of the trend. In 1883, he and a friend penned a play, Colonel Sellers as a Scientist, that contained elements of both but was panned by critics. In “Colonel Sellers: Reanimated,” playwright and Mark Twain House staffer Jacques Lamarre has refashioned the original into a Steampunk-zombie mash-up comedy. November 30, 7 p.m. Tickets are $10; $5 for members.

At both events, revelers will be served birthday cake and given a sneak peek at the designs of Mark Twain commemorative coins in gold and silver to be released by the U.S. Mint in early 2016. A portion of the purchase price of the coins will benefit four sites: The Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York; the Mark Twain Project at the University of California, Berkeley; the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford; and the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal. We’ll share more details about the coins soon.

In anticipation of Writers Between the Covers, on sale October 29, we’re spotlighting locales associated with literary lovers. Click here to find out how to enter to win a copy of the book.

A JEWEL FIT FOR A KIPLING

19kipling_CA0-articleLargeWhile Rudyard Kipling was on honeymoon, he received the bad news that his bank had gone bust, taking his life savings along with it. The penniless writer and his young American bride, Carrie, decided to leave England for Brattleboro, Vermont, where they were able to build a home on property owned by Carrie’s family.

They christened their dwelling “Naulahka,” the Hindi word for “jewel beyond price,” which was also the title of a novel Kipling had co-written with his wife’s brother. While at Naulahka (pronounced now-LAH-kuh), the writer produced some of his best known works including The Jungle Book and the first of his Just So Stories. His fiercely protective wife guarded the door to his study, refusing admittance to the newspapermen and fans who frequently came to call on the now-famous author.

During his time in Vermont, avid golfer Kipling also invented the game of “snow golf” using red-painted golf balls and cups. His golf clubs remain at the house, which the family hurriedly left only four years after their arrival. When Kipling became embroiled in an ugly lawsuit against his alcoholic brother-in-law, who reportedly threatened to kill him, the resulting media hype spurred the publicity-shy writer to return to England.

Today Naulahka, which has been managed and restored by the Landmark Trust, can be rented by bibliophiles who want to soak in Kipling’s claw-foot tub or sit at the desk where the Nobel Prize winner penned his works.

[Photo: Nancy Palmieri for The New York Times]

In anticipation of Writers Between the Covers, on sale October 29, we’re spotlighting literary locales associated with some of the figures featured in the book.

gwh-2GREENWAY HOUSE
When archaeological excursions in the Middle East weren’t on the itinerary for Agatha Christie and her husband, Max Mallowan, the couple could often be found at Greenway House, their holiday retreat in the English countryside. Among the items on display in the 18th century residence-turned-museum—which inspired the setting for the Poirot tale Dead Man’s Folly—are the author’s 1937 Remington portable typewriter and a Steinway piano. The musically talented Christie, who trained as a classical pianist, was too shy to play the piano for anyone except Mallowan.

Before Christie found her happily ever after with the archaeologist, she endured the painfully public demise of her first marriage. After her spouse walked out on her, she became embroiled in a real-life mystery. Christie disappeared for eleven days, sparking the largest-ever manhunt in England before resurfacing with claims of amnesia.

INVESTIGATE CHRISTIE’S RETREAT
Greenway House sits on 30 acres of woodland and gardens overlooking the River Dart. Mystery buffs who want to do more than meander through the museum can holiday in Christie and Mallowan’s digs; a five-bedroom apartment, spread over the first and second floors of the house, is available for short-term rentals.

[Photo ©Flickr/globalNix]

Mark Twain's parlor decked out for the holidays.

Make it a double header this weekend and visit both Mark Twain‘s mansion and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abode, which are right next door to each other in Hartford, Connecticut. Among the festivities at the Victorian-themed “Stowe & Twain’s Olde-Fashioned Christmas” extravaganza are crafts, caroling, and horse-drawn carriage rides around the historic Nook Farm neighborhood that was a popular dwelling place for writers and publishers in the 1800s.

The Olde-Fashioned Christmas takes place Saturday, December 10, and Sunday, December 11, from noon to 4 p.m. The activities are free. There is an admission charge for tours of the houses adorned in holiday finery, looking as they would have when the writers were in residence. If you prefer a different take, also on December 10 at the Mark Twain House is a separate event at 2 p.m.: the Winter Solstice Steampunk Christmas Tea.

[Photo ©westernconnecticut.blogspot.com]

Louisa May Alcott’s home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts, is hosting holiday-themed tours on Saturdays and Sundays through December 18th. The “Little Women Christmas” festivities include reenactments of scenes from the novel performed by costumed characters, activities for children and families, and take-home mementos.

Advance reservations are strongly suggested. Included with admission for reserved tickets is 10% off in the Orchard House gift shop. For the bibliophiles on your gift list, we suggest a Mood Pillow. The stylish throw pillow, a recreation of one owned by Louisa May Alcott, has a dual use: mood indicator. If it stood on end, the writer wanted to socialize; if it lay flat it was best to stay away.

Also available are t-shirts for literary kids with the tag line “Little Women Grow Up to Be Great Women” and one for grown-ups sporting a quote by Louisa May Alcott: “The emerging woman …will be strong minded, strong hearted, strong souled, and strong bodied…”

If visiting an author house isn’t on your itinerary this summer, do the next best thing—take to the page. These two novels not only feature classic scribes as characters, they use literary landmarks as backdrops. Visits to Hemingway’s Paris haunts, like Les Deux Magots cafe (below left), and Flannery O’Connor’s rural Georgia farm (right) come wrapped up with intriguing storylines. For some of us, that makes for the perfect summer read.

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

Ernest Hemingway’s closest companion during his now-famous years in Paris in the 1920s was his first wife, Hadley Richardson, who makes brief appearances in his memoir A Moveable Feast. Hadley was 28 when she met Hemingway at a mutual friend’s party in Chicago. Nearly a decade older than the aspiring writer, pretty yet plain, educated but far from worldly, she seems an unlikely match for the handsome, charming, dynamic Hemingway. After a whirlwind courtship the two marry and set sail for Europe. In The Paris Wife, Paula McClain recounts their years in Jazz Age Paris mingling with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald before their marriage comes apart.

A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano

Stricken with lupus at age twenty-five, Flannery O’Connor left New York City and returned to her family’s ancestral farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she devoted herself to writing and raising peacocks, swans, chickens, and other birds. In Ann Napolitano’s novel, O’Connor’s quiet existence at Andalusia is broken up when she strikes up a friendship with the married Melvin Whiteson. He came to Milledgeville to start a new chapter in his life, but when he meets Flannery—who despite her illness is vibrantly alive—he starts to question the choices he has made.

[photos © Paris Tourist Office, David Lefranc; Flannery O’Connor Andalusia Foundation]

Ernest Hemingway was born in July on the cusp of the 20th century, and the summer month would prove to be a pivotal time for the writer throughout his life. Here are some key July moments in the Hemingway timeline:

July 21, 1899 – Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, a middle-class Chicago suburb where he spent the first 18 years of his life. He
spent his early childhood years in a grand turreted, Queen Anne-style home, now a shrine to the scribe and operated in conjunction with the nearby Ernest Hemingway Museum.

July 1918 – While driving an ambulance for the Red Cross on the Italian front lines during World War I, 18-year-old Hemingway was seriously
wounded by mortar fire. His shrapnel wounds were tended to by a nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky, with whom he fell in love. Their relationship inspired his novel about a doomed wartime romance, A Farewell to Arms. Agnes’ rejection letter to the brave warrior is on display at the Ernest Hemingway Museum.

July 1923 – The insatiable traveler attended his first bullfight during Pamplona’s legendary running of the bulls, returning nearly every year for the rest of the decade to witness the death-defying spectacle. His Spanish sojourns inspired his 1925 novel The Sun Also Rises, which takes place during the annual Fiesta of San Fermin and follows a dissolute band of expats who spend their days drinking brandy and absinthe at Café Iruna.

July 1937 – At the White House, Hemingway attended a viewing of the film The Spanish Earth with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. He had become outspoken against anti-fascism after covering the Spanish Civil War for a North American newspaper and co-wrote and narrated the documentary shown to the president. The event was a fundraiser for ambulances for the Loyalist forces fighting Franco.

July 1940 – The famous scribe wrapped up For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was published three months later and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He penned the tale in various locations, including Idaho, where he occupied the Parlor Suite (number 206) at the Sun Valley Lodge. He dubbed the room “Glamour House” and posed there next to his typewriter for the book’s dust jacket photo. Today his picture hangs above the fireplace.

July 1960 – Hemingway left Cuba for the last time after having spent nearly two decades residing on the island, where his refuge was a 13-acre estate overlooking Havana. At La Finca Vigía (Spanish for “lookout farm”), among the works he wrote was The Old Man and the Sea, his Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of man versus marlin.

July 2, 1961 – Suffering from debilitating illness and bouts of depression, Hemingway died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home just west of Ketchum, Idaho, 50 years ago. His two-story chalet overlooking Big Wood River has been preserved by the Nature Conservancy and is open to the public only on special occasions.

[Photos © Hemingway Birthplace Home, Cafe Iruna, Sun Valley Lodge, Finca Vigia Foundation]