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At a land-locked abode in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, Herman Melville sailed with Captain Ahab and crew in Moby-Dick. Inspiration for the tale came from the view out his study window: snow-covered Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, which looked to him like the outline of a white whale. (The picture above shows it in the summer, so a little imagination is required.)

The rambling 18th-century farmhouse, which Melville named Arrowhead for artifacts he found on the property, was home to the writer for 13 years. A tour of the house was a fascinating, well-spent hour, with our guide talking about Melville’s adventurous past on the high seas, his friendship with fellow writer and Berkshires resident Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the circumstances that led him to all but give up his writing and take a desk job at the customs house in New York City for the last two decades of his life.

Two interesting architectural details immortalize Melville’s connection to Arrowhead: a now-restored porch—with a vista of Mt. Greylock—he had built and features in the short story “The Piazza Tales,” and lines from “The Chimney” inscribed above the fireplace in the dining room. Melville’s brother, who succeeded him at the farm, was so taken with the tale he had the still-visible text etched there for posterity.

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In the neighboring town of Lenox is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and named for Nathanial Hawthorne’s Tangelwood Tales for Girls and Boys. On a rainy Friday evening, before attending a performance at the venue, my husband, Brian, and I traipsed around the muddy grounds looking for “the little red house.” It’s a replica of a cottage once lived in by Hawthorne and his family (the original was destroyed by fire) and where he wrote The House of the Seven Gables. I had all but given up hope that we were going to find it when Brian spotted it off in the distance.

The Berkshires is literary travel heaven. Lenox was once home to Edith Wharton, whose European-inspired estate, The Mount, I visited on a previous trip to the area.

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While traveling US-7 from the Berkshires to southern Vermont, a sign on the left hand side of the road in Shaftsbury caught my eye. “Robert Frost Stone House Museum.” I hadn’t yet researched what literary sites might be near the next stop on the RV adventures (as in, consulted Novel Destinations), and I was excited to get a glimpse of the picturesque cottage as I sped by. I went back a couple of days later to have a look around the 250-year-old granite and timber farmhouse, where Frost lived for a decade.

The exhibits are shown in two rooms, including the one where Frost penned the poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”…during the summer. Although the museum section of the house is small, the exhibits are jam-packed with fascinating details—such as how Frost and a group of family and friends were among the first to hike a newly opened section of the Appalachian Trail in the Northeast (his ill-fitting new shoes led him to cut the trip short, taking a train from Connecticut back to Vermont) and the ongoing efforts to restore the apple orchards he once cultivated on the property. On display is a complete set of works by Sir Walter Scott, which the poet gave to his grandson as a Christmas gift.

Frost is buried in Bennington, Vermont, in the cemetery behind the Old First Congregational Church, where he attended services. His final resting place is engraved with what has to be one of the wittiest epitaphs ever to appear on a gravestone: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

If you’re up for an all-nighter, the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts, is hosting its annual marathon reading of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick this weekend. More than 100 bibliophiles will read passages from the novel. The event begins on Saturday, January 9th, at noon when a young sailor decked in 19th-century garb utters the opening lines of the story (“Call me Ishmael”) and concludes about 24 hours later. Much-needed coffee and snacks will be served throughout the night.

On January 3, 1841, Herman Melville sailed from New Bedford aboard a ship headed for the Pacific. He later featured the historic whaling port, which was burned by British forces during the Revolutionary War, in Moby-Dick. “The town itself is perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New England,” declared Melville in his epic tale.

If the current frigid weather in New England is a deterrent, plan a visit to the seaside town during the warmer months. “In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine maples—long avenues of green and gold,” wrote Melville. “And in August, high in air, the beautiful and bountiful horse-chestnuts, candelabra-wise, proffer the passer-by their tapering upright cones of congregated blossoms. So omnipotent is art; which in many a district of New Bedford has superinduced bright terraces of flowers upon the barren refuse rocks thrown aside at creation’s final day.”

The museum, whose mission is to illuminate the interaction of humans with whales, has a guide listing 38 of its artifacts and how they relate to Moby-Dick.

Lodging options in New Bedford include the bed-and-breakfast Melville House (right). The restored Italian Empire-style house was once owned by Melville’s sister, Katherine, who often had her sibling to stay. You can slumber in the Herman Melville Room, where a portrait of the scribe hangs above an antique writing desk. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

[Photo © Melville House]

Herman Melville’s seafaring epic Moby-Dick is on its way to being declared the offical book of the state of Massachusetts, USA Today recently reported. Melville wrote the novel while living at a farmhouse (left) in Pittsfield in the Berkshire Mountains, where he was inspired by the view from his study window–Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, whose outline is said to look like the shape of a whale.

Moby-Dick‘s lauded status has caused some controversy, particularly from representatives in the town of Concord, which was home to Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.

There is certainly no shortage of literary riches in Massachusetts. It’s the state with the most author houses, five of which are in Concord alone.

Edith Wharton’s Berkshires estate, The Mount, opened today for the 2008 season.

I plan to visit the house and Italianate-style gardens, both of which were designed by Wharton, this summer. And if ever there was a time for bibliophiles to pay a visit to a literary landmark, this is it. The Mount is facing foreclosure, and a fundraising campaign has been launched to save the property, a National Historic Landmark. A significant amount of money still needs to be raised by May 31st. To see pictures of the house and gardens or to make a pledge (which won’t be called in unless the monetary goal is reached), go to www.edithwharton.org.

The Berkshires area is a paradise for literary travelers. In addition to The Mount, Lenox is also home to the Shakespeare & Company ensemble, which stages productions of the Bard’s works from May through October. In nearby Pittsfield is Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s farmstead and where he wrote Moby-Dick, and the Herman Melville Memorial Room at the Berkshire Athenaeum, which houses the world’s largest collection of memorabilia related to the writer. One of the items on display is his passport signed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was Melville’s overseas sponsor while serving as U.S. Consul in Liverpool, England. And last but not least, the Hawthorne House is a small red cottage where the novelist penned his gothic tale The House of the Seven Gables. It’s located on the grounds of Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer performance venue, and although it’s not open to the public it can be viewed from the outside.

This summer will be my first trip to the Berkshires, and I’ve already started my itinerary to make sure I don’t miss any of these literary sites and events. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

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