I am on another armchair traveling adventure. This time I am visiting writers’ houses, a favorite pastime. The book I am reading is titled The Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses and yet I am not skeptical in the least about my journey.
The author, Anne Trubek, is somewhat suspicious of the motives people have in visiting writers’ houses and museums. She seems to think that the literary pilgrim is hoping to acquire a dash of the writer’s genius or to brush up against the writer’s fictional characters.
Going to a writer's house is a fool's errand. We will never find our favorite characters or admired techniques within these houses; we can't join Huck on the raft or experience Faulkner's stream of consciousness. We can only walk through empty rooms full of pitchers and paintings and stoves.
Not the best attitude to have as she sets out to discover for herself the allure of the writers’ houses across America from the homes of Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts to the Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, California. Along the way she stows away her doubts and actually begins to enjoy herself.
I am a great fan of visiting writers’ homes, birthplaces, and even graves and have written here of those that I have visited. And no, I don’t think the writer’s genius will rub off on me (Oh, but wouldn’t that be lovely!), but I go for the history and just to get a peek at the bookshelves. (If you would care to read about any of my adventures, click on the 2012 and 2013 Grand Southern Literary Tour tabs above.)
Of the dozen or so literary sites that Ms. Trubek visits, I have been to three. There is Samuel Clemens’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri - the entire town pays homage not so much to the author but to his creations Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Then there is The Manse in Concord that was lived in by Emerson and later Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia Peabody. Finally, there is the Thomas Wolfe house in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, which she so rightly states is being swallowed up by more and more commercial development.
I still have Hemingway’s homes in Key West and Ketchum, Idaho to look forward to visiting, via Ms. Trubek, along with an Edgar Allan Poe house in the Bronx and Walt Whitman’s home in Camden, New Jersey.
It is amusing to read her reactions not only to the houses and their oftentimes faux furnishings but also the docents’ patter and the comments and questions of other visitors. Her musings range from thoughtful to scholarly to often witty and snarky. I liked them all.
The book has been on my bookshelf for many years. I remember now that I ordered it, pre-Amazon, from the Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller catalog. I am glad that I finally picked it up to read.
What literary pilgrimages have you made? Did you get your money’s worth or were you left feeling as if you had come upon an empty shelf?
As you might expect, I love visiting authors' houses. Just recently I walked through Ernest Hemingway's Key West house (for the second time), and on our trip to New England a couple of years ago I dragged my husband through Mark Twain's CT home, Louisa May Alcott's home, Walden Pond, and the cemetery in Concord where many of these writers are buried. I also saw Frances Parkinson Keyes' house in New Orleans, and LOVED her writing room. In fact, that's one my favorite things--seeing where writers worked. No, I don't think their genius will rub off on me (though one can always dream), but I'm just nosy enough to enjoy snooping through their natural habitat, so to speak. So far I've gotten my money's worth.ReplyDelete
This book sounds like one I would have liked to have written!
Hi, Kathy. Yes, seeing where a writer worked - the desk, the bookshelves, the view - always makes me happy. I especially remember Eudora Welty's big desk in her bedroom that overlooked the front yard of the house. Good vibes even if I couldn't absorb her style.ReplyDelete
Would love to visit Hemingway's Key West home - I do have a postcard sent to me by a friend. It features the cats but not the interior.
I've been to the homes of a lot of the New England authors: Frost, Alcott, Dickinson, Wharton, Mark Twain (the one in CT, but we didn't go almost next door to Harriet Beecher Stowe's house), Melville, Thoreau, and Longfellow. I like to imagine my those people in their every day lives in their homes. Oh, I've been to Hemingway's Key West house, with all the polydactyl cats! You should treat yourself to that one day.ReplyDelete
Hi, Joan. Wow! You have been around. I would love to visit Wharton's The Mount and Mark Twain's CT house. On the Literary Bucket List. And Hemingway's, of course. I do have a postcard from there but that doesn't really count. Meow...Delete
I have been to The Manse in Concord and, while a replica, Thoreau's cabin and the Alcott house and the cemetery. While not as far as England, the desks of Tolkein and C.S. Lewis (and the actual wardrobe) are on display, not far from here, at Wheaton College, Just rubbing my hand along their desks was thrilling.ReplyDelete
Hi, Penny. Thanks for sharing your literary site memories. How odd that the Tolkein and Lewis desks found their way to America. I will have to look them up.Delete
I felt the same way you did touching the desks when I stumbled on to the desk and personal library collection of Robert Penn Warren at the end of the 2013 Literary Tour. I made a stop at the Kentucky Library and Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. not knowing that he had left these items to the library. I was astounded at the breadth of knowledge contained in the books he owned.
Interesting that you skipped Louisa's house! Of all the houses, I think it is the one where you can join her characters and experience what they did since the art and artifacts in the house do appear in Little Women. It didn't go out of the family until the 1930s. BTW if you watch the Hepburn version of LW, the sets copy the house quite faithfully....ReplyDelete
I know. That was a crazy mis-step on my part. It was a long time ago that I visited Concord. I do remember seeing in the Hawthorne house the etched notes Nathaniel and Sophie wrote with the diamond in her ring on the window panes in an upstairs room. I'll have to re-watch the LW movie. The version with KH is the best!Delete