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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]

The New York Public Library’s grand Beaux-Arts edifice at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, famously guarded by two stone lions named Patience and Fortitude, is one of Manhattan’s most iconic structures. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of its Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Library has dipped into its vast archives and created a special display.

250 of the Library’s millions of treasures are showcased in “Celebrating 100 Years: The Centennial Exhibition.” The items are organized into four thematic sections—Observation, Contemplation, Society, and Creativity—and range from intriguing to unusual. Among them: Charlotte Brontë’s writing desk; Virginia Woolf’s walking stick and the last diary entry she wrote before committing suicide; a snippet of Mary Shelley’s dark brown locks; and Jack Kerouac’s glasses, rolling papers, and pipe.

The exhibit is open until December 31st. Free tours are given Monday thru Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. and Sunday (except July and August) at 3:30 p.m. Or ask for a brochure at the information desk and do a self-guided tour.

Next weekend, May 21st and 22nd, readers of all ages are invited to join the revelry at a public festival in honor of the Centennial with live music and theater, lectures, tours, gratis ice cream, and much more. For details, visit

[Photo © New York Public Library]

If seeing the film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic novel Jane Eyre, which opened in theaters last Friday, has inspired wanderlust, head for Haddon Hall (below left) in the English countryside. Located in Bakewell, Derbyshire, the stand-in for Mr. Rochester’s atmospheric Thornfield Hall is a fortified medieval manor house and one of the oldest dwellings in England.

Some scenes were also shot in the gardens at Chatsworth House (below right)—home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire—which has appeared on film before. It was used for the exterior shots of Mr. Darcy’s house, Pemberley, in the 2005 movie Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. 

Combine a visit to Haddon Hall and Chatsworth House with a trip to the village of Haworth in Yorkshire, the longtime home of Charlotte and her famous sisters, Emily and Anne. Visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum, housed in the siblings’ former abode; take a literary-themed walking tour of the town; and have a pint or two at the Black Bull, a pub their wayward brother Branwell frequented.

One of the most memorable things Joni and I did on our trip to Haworth was amble along the moors to the Brontë sisters’ favorite destination. The picturesque spot has a waterfall and what has been dubbed the “Brontë chair,” which is a stone slab in the shape of a (surprisingly comfortable) chair. It’s a great place to take a breather after the two-and-a-half mile hike to get there.

The Focus Features website has a ton of fascinating information about the making of the film. Also of note: has a review of the movie by Syrie James, whose novels include The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

[Photos: Haddon Hall, ©flickr/roger 4336; all others, ©]

In honor of Jack Kerouac’s birthday this Saturday, March 12, Time Out New York has a festive tribute to the On the Road author. In a round-up of “the spots where he wrote, drank and jammed” are a jazz joint, his one-time abode, and a few watering holes, including one of our favorites–the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village.

The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida, is the first literary landmark I’ve toured twice. Why? The cats. The 50 or so furry ambassadors greet and interact with visitors, as much of a draw as the house’s literary pedigree.

If you’d like to read about my first visit there, click here. It’s more of a traditional take on touring the house and Hemingway- related bars and restaurants on the island. This time around, it was about finding out what was new (mostly feline-related) and taking in details I’d previously missed. Here are some random impressions about Hemingway’s Key West, Take Two.

Fats Waller (named for the jazz musician) is one of the three most recent residents. We made fast friends, and I even briefly considered smuggling him out in my oversized handbag. He has six toes, as do many of the other cats, a trait passed down from their ancestor and Hemingway companion Snowball.

Sadly, I learned that the beautiful, fiery-orange Archibald, who reigned as the top cat, has passed away. The distinction now belongs to Marlene Deitrich (above right). She wasted no time in claiming the perk that comes with this lauded position: dibs on the bed in Hemingway’s bedroom. She looks annoyed—I think we disturbed her nap.

How adorable is this feline-sized replica of the house? Of course, the cats actually have the run of the real thing so I don’t think they’re as enamored with it as I was. 

The tour was just as fascinating the second time, a testament to the excellent and entertaining (human) guides—who are more than willing to keep the tales flowing if you stop by the porch near the front door after seeing the house and grounds. One of the guides, with his rugged, weathered face and sailor cap, looked like he could have stepped from the pages of a Hemingway novel. He had a (tall?) tale of his own: He was heading south when his boat broke down in Key West; two decades later, he’s still on the island.

Sloppy Joe’s and Captain Tony’s are the most well-known of the island’s pubs associated with Hemingway. But just down the street from the writer’s abode is the Green Parrot, where he pulled up a barstool and threw back a few. Far from bustling, crowded Duval Street, Key West’s main thoroughfare and home to those other famed watering holes, the Green Parrot is more of a local hangout.

Head to the Dry Tortugas to get a sense of the vast open waters Hemingway liked to fish. The cluster of seven islands lies about 70 miles off the coast of Key West and is now a national park reachable only by boat or seaplane. A planned week-long outing once went awry for Hemingway and his “Mob”—a group of fishing buddies that included John Dos Passos and saloonkeeper John Russell of Sloppy Joe’s—and they were marooned at Fort Jefferson on Garden Key for seventeen days. Luckily, legend has it, their supply of canned goods, coffee, and liquor—along with fresh-caught fish—saw them through until they could safely return to Key West in their small fishing boats. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Are you related to Harriet Beecher Stowe? As part of its celebrations this year to commemorate the writer’s 200th birthday, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Connecticut, is hosting a get-together for her family members. “Branching Out: A Gathering of Stowe’s Family” is scheduled to take place in June.

Even if you can’t claim the writer in your family tree, there are plenty of reasons to visit the Stowe Center. One is to take a tour of Stowe’s last residence, a Gothic-style house where she lived for more than two decades. It’s located in Hartford’s Nook Farm neighborhood, an enclave of writers and intellectuals that included Mark Twain (his mansion is next door).

Although Stowe once described herself as “retired and domestic,” her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin caused a furor across the country and overseas. She was inspired to write the book after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which made it a crime to assist runaway slaves. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852 and selling 10.000 copies its first week, changed how Americans viewed slavery and is credited with galvanizing the abolitionist movement. In its first year, 10,000 copies were sold in the U.S. and 1.5 million in Great Britain.

The tour does an excellent job illuminating the impact and legacy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and it also goes beyond the success of Stowe’s best-known book to reveal the different aspects of her career and her personal interests. She wrote numerous other works, including the domestic guide The American Woman’s Home with her sister (“the Martha Stewarts of their day,” according to our guide). Adorning the house are some of Stowe’s paintings, along with decorative pieces brought back from her European travels.

The Stowe Center regularly hosts a robust schedule of events, including a monthly book club discussion on classic and contemporary works, a walking tour of the historic neighborhood, and themed seasonal tours such as “Stowe and Women’s Rights” in March. See the full calendar here.

[Photos © Harriet Beecher Stowe Center]


A lively, informative tour of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home (one of the best tours I’ve had at any historical site) reveals insights into the writer’s early years. She was born in Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925, and lived in the house until she was thirteen. The abode was recently restored thanks in large part to a donation from literary enthusiasts Linda and Jerry Bruckheimer, the film producer.

O’Connor was a precocious child, writing comments in the margins of her books—some of which are on display with her notations, such as Alice in Wonderland, which she panned. Her childhood in Savannah later provided inspiration for some of her short stories, like “A Circle in the Fire,” which features a child eavesdropping on her mother’s conversation from a second-floor window.

While living in Savannah, O’Connor developed a lifelong affinity for domestic birds. The news organization British Pathé once reported on a pet chicken that 5-year-old O’Connor had taught the unusual feat of walking backwards, captured on video. The writer later called the event “the high point in my life.”

The Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home is located along Lafayette Square (above right), one of the city’s 21 historic and picturesque squares. Named for the Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolution, it was laid out in 1837. The water in the fountain at its center, which was donated in 1984 to mark the 250th anniversary of Savannah’s founding as a colony, runs green on St. Patrick’s Day.

O’Connor was baptized at the French Gothic-style Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (below), and she later attended services and made her first communion there. Religion is a central theme in much of O’Connor’s fiction, which she combined with dark comedy. “My subject in fiction,” she once said, “is the action of grace in territory held larely by the devil.”


Another historic dwelling on Lafayette Square is the Hamilton-Turner Inn, where rooms are named for famous Savannah figures. Located in a carriage house, the Flannery O’Connor Room features bright blue walls, a decorative iron bed, and French doors opening onto a courtyard patio.

The French Empire mansion was built in 1873 by the city’s mayor (and a blockade runner) and opened as a B&B in 1997. The abode was featured in John Berendt’s 1994 bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil as the site of some notorious parties. Tours related to Berendt’s true tale of murder in Savannah have brought literary travelers to the city in droves and are still a big draw. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Today on The Mount’s blog, staffers at the literary landmark pay tribute to Edith Wharton’s 149th birthday. The author designed, built, and resided at the estate in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains for nearly a decade (among those she hosted was writer pal Henry James, who had high praise for the equisite “French château”).

If you’re considering purchasing a membership to The Mount, today is the day to do it. In honor of Wharton’s birthday, those who sign up today will receive a copy of The Cruise of the Vanadis, a travelogue chronicling the author’s 1888 Mediterranean cruise.

The Mount has struggled with financial difficulties in recent years and has undertaken serious fundraising efforts. Last week it was announced that an anonymous donor had given a gift of $300,000 to The Mount. A birthday present for Wharton?

Check out these previous posts on Edith Wharton and The Mount:
Day Tripping to Edith Wharton’s Estate
Edith Wharton’s Paris
Is the Mount Haunted?

Scotland is pulling out all the stops to honor its national bard.

This weekend is the grand opening celebration of the revamped Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Set on 10 acres in Alloway, Ayrshire (a short bus ride from Glasgow), it replaces what was formerly the Burns National Heritage Park and encompasses several historic sites related to the poet. There is free admission tomorrow, January 22, along with live music, poetry readings, and fireworks.

The new museum building showcases more than 5,000 artifacts, some being unveiled to the public for the first time. Among the treasures are a manuscript of the original copy of “Auld Lange Syne” and a window pane from an old inn that Burns inscibred with a stanza of poetry. Also located on the museum grounds are the tiny, thatched-roof cottage (right) where Burns was born in 1759, Auld Kirk, the 16th-century ruins of a church featured in “Tam O’Shanter,” and other literary landmarks.  

The revelry continues on Tuesday, January 25, when bibliophiles commemorate the poet during Burns Night. The first recorded Burns Night Supper took place in 1801, and since then the evening’s line-up has barely changed. A traditional meal of haggis (sheep organ meats blended with oatmeal and spices), neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) is served, washed down with whiskey. 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 celebrate this special night. London establishments are getting in on the act, too. Stateside, check to see if there are Burns Night festivities in your town. If you live in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, The Haven restaurant is putting on feasts January 24-26.

If you’d like to host your own gathering, has a Burns Supper Guide with tips on food, drink, attire, and entertainment. For iPhone users, 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.

[Photos: top © Robert Burns Birthplace Museum; cottage: © Joni Rendon; bottom two: ©]

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