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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, Scotland.org 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: © Scotland.org]

To Kill a Mockingbird fans, pack your bags. If ever there was perfect time to visit Monroeville, Alabama—Harper Lee’s hometown and the model for the fictional Maycomb—it’s next month. July 1 marks the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, and “Alabama’s literary capital” is pulling out all the stops during a celebratory weekend July 8–11.

Many of the events are taking place at the Old Courthouse (below right), the site of the famed courtroom scene in To Kill a Mockingbird and now a museum with an exhibit devoted to Lee and another to her childhood friend, Truman Capote (on whom Mockingbird’s Dill is based).

The courtroom (below left) has been restored to its 1930s-era appearance, and it’s where a marathon reading of the novel will take place as part of the weekend’s festivities on July 9 & 10. (Take a seat in the balcony like Scout and Jem do in the novel.) Also on the agenda are a walking tour of sites associated with Lee and Capote (July 9) and a birthday party on the Old Courthouse lawn (July 12). Click here for the full schedule.

If you can’t make it to Monroeville, there are other places to mark the literary milestone. HarperCollins Publishers has lined up an impressive 50 events at bookstores, libraries, and other venues across the country, beginning June 11 and continuing through the end of September. Stop by Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, New York, for mocktails and music by the Boo Radleys on July 12. Attend a reenactment of the novel’s famed courtroom scene at Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California, on July 20. Check out the details for these and other events—movie screenings, speaking series, and a whole lot more—at tokillamockingbird50year.com.

[Photos © Monroe County Heritage Museums]

This weekend, enjoy a spring stroll on the Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk. On Saturday, May 15, the Emily Dickinson Museum (left) in Amherst, Massachusetts, is hosting the annual event, along with an open house, to commemorate the anniversary of the  poet’s death (May 15, 1886). Readings of Dickinson’s works will take place at six historic sites in Amherst. The walk begins at 1 p.m. in the museum’s Homestead garden and ends at Dickinson’s grave in West Cemetery.

The walk can be joined at any point. And for those who would like to show off their oratory skills, participants are invited to read the featured poems. Assignments will be distribtued on a first-come, first-served basis at the Homestead beginning at 12:45 p.m. The walk is free of charge, and so is admission to the museum’s Open House from 3 to 4 p.m.

The poet is also the focus of an exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden in New York City. “Emily Dickinson’s Garden: The Poetry of Flowers” includes a re-creation of her mid-19th century flower garden with tulips, lilacs, lilies, jasmine, and other blooms, along with selections of her nature-themed poetry and a replica of The Homestead, the Dickinson family abode. The exhibit is on view through June 13.

2010 is the year of Mark Twain. April 21 marks the centennial of the writer’s death and November 30 the 175th anniversary of his birth. To commemorate the occasions, festivities are taking place at several sites in the U.S. related to the novelist, humorist, and travel writer. If you join in the literary revelry, be sure to enjoy yourself. Twain wasn’t fond of commemorative occasions, but he also declared that “a good and wholesome thing is a little harmless fun in this world.”

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT
The Mark Twain House & Museum — an atmospheric Victorian Gothic mansion where the writer put down roots for 16 years — is going all out to celebrate Twain this year. Their line-up of events includes “The Mark Twain Séance” on April 21, with a recreation of a Victorian-era séance and a tour of the house led by a ghost investigator. Running through January 2011 is the exhibit “Legacy,” which traces Twain’s influence on America and the world. It explores how Twain has been perceived by the public over the years and features letters from celebrities expressing their thoughts about the writer—like humorist Roy Blount, Jr., who summed it up in three words: “He’s still funny!” marktwainhouse.org

HANNIBAL, MISSOURI
Twain described Hannibal as “a boy’s paradise,” and he immortalized the Mississippi River town as St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Among the 2010 events at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum is a film festival; on the first Friday of each month a film version of one of Twain’s works is screened. At noon on April 21 is the “Time Capsule Ceremony.” Museum staffers will be joined by the characters Tom and Becky as they bury a time capsule filled with items related to the raconteur. marktwainmuseum.org

ELMIRA, NEW YORK
On display at the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College is Twain’s octagon-shaped writing studio (John Steinbeck was later inspired to create a similar workspace at his Long Island home). Special happenings in Elmira, where Twain spent summers for nearly two decades, include a reading of his correspondence on April 15, a reenactment of his burial at the town’s Woodlawn Cemetery on April 24, and “Dine Like Twain Dinners” featuring his family’s recipes April 21-23. marktwaincountry.com

Other places to tap into Twain’s legacy: The Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site in Florida, Missouri (temporarily closed for repairs), and the Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, a silver mining town where he began using his famous pseudonym while working as a newspaper reporter.

For a calendar listing of Twain events, visit twain2010.org.

[Photos ©Mark Twain House & Museum, Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, and Center for Mark Twain Studies/Elmira College]

Since the 1945 publication of John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row, literary travelers have been drawn to the seaside town of Monterey, California. A must-see is the diminutive, weather-beaten dwelling at 800 Cannery Row, once the home and professional domain of Ed Ricketts–a marine biologist, Steinbeck’s close friend, and the inspiration for the character Doc in Cannery Row. The Cannery Row Foundation gives tours of “Doc’s lab” on select days throughout the year, including this Saturday, February 27th, to commemorate Steinbeck’s birthday.

Steinbeck was a frequent visitor to the lab in the 1930s, along with other writers and artists who showed up for the legendary parties that sometimes went on for days.  He would often walk the short distance from his cottage in nearby Pacific Grove to Cannery Row, where he indulged in “whiskey and conversation” with Ricketts. “Life on Cannery Row,” Steinbeck reminisced years later, “was curious and dear and outrageous.”

Tours are given hourly from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The cost is $15 per person. For more information, visit www.canneryrow.org.

In 1898, the 38-year-old playwright Anton Chekhov was forced to leave his home in Moscow for the warmer climes of of the seaside Ukranian resort of Yalta due to his worsening tuberculosis. Constructed to his own unusual design with stunning views of the Black Sea, the house is where Chekhov spent the last five years of his life and penned a series of his late masterpieces, including The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard

It was here that he was visited by writer Maxim Gorky and entertained by Rachmaninov on the piano. And it was on the telephone in his study that he called Tolstoy and received telegrams about the Moscow premiere of his play Uncle Vanya. The house was also home to Chekhov’s mother, his actress-wife Olga Knipper, and his sister Masha, who preserved its interior just as it was when her brother left it for the last time and opened it as a museum after the Revolution.

But now, in a year when the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth is being celebrated the world over, the museum lies in a state of chronic neglect. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the house’s funding, as it suddenly found itself marooned in a Ukraine which does not regard the financial support of a museum devoted to a Russian writer as a priority. The funds that the museum now receives from the local Crimean authority are not enough to stop the physical fabric of the house from steadily deteriorating, says Chekhov biographer, Rosamund Bartlett. With mold in Chekhov’s study, ominous cracks appearing in the walls, and the ever-present threat of damp, the house is in urgent need of restoration. Bartlett has led the charge in establishing a fund to preserve the playwright’s Yalta house: www.yaltachekhov.org/ and from May 26 -31, she leads a Chekhov Anniversary Tour to Yalta, details of which can be found at www.exeterinternational.co.uk/chekhov.html.

The last year of novelist Leo Tolstoy’s life is played out in the film The Last Station, which arrived in UK theaters today. The drama, which opened in the U.S. last month, stars Christopher Plummer as the literary icon and Helen Mirren as his wife and muse, Sofya Andreyevna—both of whom have garnered Oscar nominations for their performances.

Based on a novel by Jay Parini, The Last Station unfolds Tolstoy’s tumultuous final months in 1910 as his disciple, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), attempts to persuade the writer to ignore Sofya’s wishes and sign a new will leaving the rights to his literary works to the state for the benefit of the Russian people. Chertkov installs a spy in Tolstoy’s household, a young man who falls in love with one of the writer’s daughters.

The Last Station was filmed in Germany, but the ancestral estate, Yasnaya Polyana, where Tolstoy spent his final years is located in the Russian countryside 112 miles south of Moscow. “I could hardly imagine Russia, or my relationship with her, without my Yasnaya Polyana,” he once wrote. Today it’s preserved as the Tolstoy Estate Museum, and among the rooms on view are the writer’s 222,000-volume library and the study (right) where he penned War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

[photo ©The State Memorial and Natural Preserve/Museum-Estate of Leo Tolstoy]

“There could be worse places to spend the night than the Victor Hugo Museum,” muses private eye Aimée Leduc in Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. The page-turner is the first book in a series of mysteries, each of which is set in a different quarter of Paris.

The series is terrific and great fun for mystery buffs and armchair travelers. It has compelling characters, intriguing plots, and lots of historical trivia about writers, artists, and musicians. In each book Black weaves in details like an inside look at the Edith Piaf Museum, a shrine to the French singer, in Murder in Belleville and a mention of Emile Zola’s final resting place and George Sand and Frederic Chopin’s trysting place in Murder in Montmartre. (Check out Aimée’s Paris Guide on Black’s website.) 

In Murder in the Marais, intrepid Aimée joins a tour group at the Maison de Victor Hugo to elude some men chasing her and then hides out in the writer’s domain after hours. “The museum, laid out as it had been in his time, showed the daily life of Victor Hugo. Hugo’s bedroom, taken up with a canopied bed, overlooked Places des Vosges through leaded bubbled glass. Worn dark wood paneling covered the walls. A showcase held various colored locks of his hair tied with ribbon, labeled and dated. In the study was his escritoire and a sheet of half-written yellowed foolscap with a quill pen in a crystal inkwell beside it.”

The financial success that came with the publication of Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame allowed him and his family to move into the grand residence in 1832. It’s located on Places des Vosges (above right), the oldest square in Paris, distinctive for its elegant red brick and white stone 17th-century buildings. The museum features re-creations of Hugo’s bedroom at his last Parisian residence at 130 Avenue d’Eylau and a Chinese-themed room (left) he designed for the home of his mistress, Juliette Drouet.

The Maison de Victor Hugo was on the Paris itinerary of bookseller Deb of Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., who fittingly described it as “beautiful and mysterious.” We’re glad to know that Novel Destinations provided Deb with some inspiration on her literary travels abroad—and that she selected the book as one of her staff picks. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Emily Dickinson MuseumThe New York Times has reported that at The Homestead (left), part of the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, a section of the ceiling in the parlor collapsed on Sunday. The museum is currently closed and plans to re-open this Saturday, October 31st. If you’re heading there, check the Plan Your Visit page on their website first to confirm.

Emily Dickinson was born at The Homestead on December 10, 1830. She spent all but 15 of her 55 years at the house, where she penned poetry in secret and saved it in hand-bound volumes that were discovered by her sister after her death. Only seven of her 1,800 poems were published during her lifetime.

Dickinson often tended the gardens at The Homestead (attired in her signature white dress, a replica of which is on display), and much of her poetry features floral references. On the museum’s website, a virtual tour of the grounds offers insight into how Dickinson was inspired by the landscape surrounding The Homestead. “Flowers were a favorite metaphor for Emily Dickinson,” viewers are informed. “She used them to represent beauty, love, mystery and the whole cycle of life.”

[Photo courtesy of the Emily Dickinson Museum]

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