Literary Travels

By Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon

A century before we traveled to Brontë Country in northern England, Virginia Woolf embarked on her own literary pilgrimage to the heather-strewn Yorkshire Moors, once home to literary sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne. In a newspaper essay, Woolf noted that her excitement upon approaching “had in it an element of suspense,” as though she were to meet a long-separated friend. We felt the same emotion while touring the parsonage where the three sisters spent most of their short lives, and while rambling along the moors most famously depicted by Emily Brontë in
Wuthering Heights.

When researching our book Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West, we were surprised to discover that literary travel is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Readers descended on Concord, Massachusetts, in the 1800s, hoping to catch a glimpse of Louisa May Alcott, the publicity-shy author of Little Women. Nathaniel Hawthorne visited Sir Walter Scott’s castle, Abbotsford, in the Scottish border country, and noted that the worn cuffs of the author’s old green coat on display in the study provoked a feeling that he was nearby. Writerly pals Henry James and Edith Wharton pilgrimaged to the French château of their literary idol, George Sand—and fittingly, modern-day bibliophiles can visit homes that once belonged to the globetrotting duo.

James’ red-brick house in the English countryside contrasts modestly with Wharton’s lavish Berkshire Mountains estate, The Mount, where her love of travel is on full display. She designed the centerpiece, a 42-room mansion, using classic European design principles, along with French- and Italianate-style gardens. Perhaps recalling their travels, James described The Mount as “a delicate French château mirrored in a Massachusetts pond.”

Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon are the authors of Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West.

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