Strawberry HillIt’s not often that Joni and I are able to explore literary sites together since we’re usually on different continents. But during a recent stay with her in London, bookish activities were on our itinerary.

First we perused the British Library’s wonderfully informative and atmospheric exhibit “Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination,” inspired by the 250th anniversary of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. The eerie tale is credited as being the first Gothic novel, and the exhibit opens with a section on the book and its creator. When we learned that Walpole conjured up The Castle of Otranto at Strawberry Hill, a Gothic-style house in a London suburb, we headed out to see it the next day.

Strawberry Hill “was built to please my own taste,” boasted Walpole. He took inspiration from Gothic cathedrals, incorporating features like vaulted arch doorways and rose windows into his abode, which in turn launched a literary tradition. It was in this atmospheric setting that Walpole first had the idea for The Castle of Otranto, awakening from a dream and imagining he saw a giant armored fist on the central staircase.

In addition to hosting royalty and other VIP guests at swank soirees, Walpole allowed members of the public entry into his domain. Only four literary travelers were allowed access on any given day, shown around by the writer’s housekeeper while he retreated elsewhere on the grounds. Walpole wanted a stroll through his abode to be a theatrical experience, with guests entering through a darkly lit foyer, ascending a gray stone staircase, and finally laying eyes on the flamboyant, crimson-and-gold gallery where he preferred to entertain.

We just made it for a self-guided tour of Walpole’s Gothic wonder before it closed for the season. Mark your calendars: Strawberry Hill reopens on March 1, 2015.

 

Transylvania's Bran Castle is a fitting döppelganger for the fictional Count Dracula's atmospheric abode.

Transylvania’s Bran Castle is a fitting döppelganger for the fictional Count Dracula’s atmospheric abode.

In conjunction with the exhibit “Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination,” the British Library in London is offering a lucky bibliophile the chance to head to Transylvania. The winner of this enticing expedition will delve into the history surrounding Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for the title character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The five-day excursion includes the tour “Dracula: The True Story of Vlad the Impaler” and sightseeing outings with an English-speaking guide. (Click here for details on how to enter the competition.)

Dracula and other spine-tingling tales are the focus of “Terror and Wonder,” which traces the 250-year history of the Gothic genre. The wonderfully atmospheric exhibit begins by spotlighting Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the 1764 novel that created a sensation and is credited with kicking off the genre. From there the exhibit explores influential works that followed Walpole’s page-turner, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and traces the Gothic influence into contemporary times. In addition, “Terror and Wonder” intriguingly illustrates how the Gothic tradition has extended beyond literature to film, art, music, fashion, and architecture.

Literary buffs will enjoy seeing handwritten drafts of Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Also included in the multi-media exhibit are film clips, posters, paintings, Alexander McQueen clothing, and some 200 other items, including a vampire slaying kit complete with holy water and a pistol for firing silver bullets. Because a great book really can make the imagination run wild.

“Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination” is on view through January 20, 2015.

 

[Photo © BL.uk]

Jaipur PalaceShakespeare and CompanyLafayette Square

For travelers who pack more page-turners than apparel when going on vacation, one of these guided, literary-themed getaways might be just the thing.

Passage to India / January 18-29

Foyles Bookshop is leading a trip to India with stops in Jaipur, Delhi, Samode, and Gurgaon. Notable events on the agenda are a tea tasting at the Full Circle Bookshop in Delhi, an invite to the private Authors Ball at the Jaipur Literature Festival, and a tete-a-tete with novelist Marcel Theroux. Tour participants receive a bounty of books, selected by Theroux, for pre-trip reading: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.

Sultry Savannah / April 12-15
Bibliophiles can discuss Flannery O’Connor’s fiction in the atmospheric southern city where she was born in 1925. Offered by Classical Pursuits, the Mystery & Manners in Savannah excursion also includes a tour of O’Connor’s childhood home on Lafayette Square, one of 21 picturesque squares in this city distinctive for its antebellum architecture and abundant gardens.

Exploring Paris and Provence / September 7-16
A unique, ten-day tour from Adventures by the Book follows in the footsteps of author Susan Vreeland as she recreates the journey behind her novel Lisette’s List. Along with the chance to travel with Vreeland, some of the perks included in the tour price are a signed first edition of Lisette’s List and a welcome reception at the legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare & Company.

 

 

[Photos: Jaipur Palace: © Foyles.co.uk; Shakespeare and Co. and Savannah, GA: © NovelDestinations.com]

 

beachnm[1]We loved reading this Flavorwire post about literary homes that are up for sale, among them Dracula’s castle in Romania and Norman Mailer’s beachfront pad in Providence, Rhode Island. Mailer and his fourth wife, Norris, lived there for more than 30 years, while he wrote prolifically in his third-floor study, boxed in the basement, and played poker in the dining room.

The author’s oldest son, film producer Michael Mailer, tells The Boston Globe they’re asking $4 million for the waterfront Provincetown house, which is “filled with great memories and great family times,” but the children live in New York and beyond so it’s not practical to keep it in the family.

Four-Centuries-After-his-Death-Cervantess-Remains-are-to-be-ExhumedA search began yesterday for the remains of Spain’s greatest writer, Miguel de Cervantes. He died at aged 69 in poverty in Madrid four centuries ago, his body riddled with bullets from wounds sustained in the 1571 Battle of Lepanto between Spain and Ottoman Turkish forces. While no records exist giving the precise location of his burial, he is thought to have been laid to rest in the grounds of Madrid’s Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians.

A team of experts will attempt to find his remains using radar technology to identify altered ground in hopes of finding the great author’s exact resting place.

Euroda Welty House(1)
The little Free Library (right) on the lawn outside the Eudora Welty
Visitor Center in Jackson, MS, is modeled on the writer’s Tudor-style
house next door. Look for a copy of Writers Between the Covers
inside the Free Library.

Eudora Welty’s abode is preserved almost exactly as it was when she lived there, making it one of the most intact literary residences in America. Indeed, it seems as if the writer (who bequeathed the property to the state of Mississippi) has merely stepped out and might return at any moment to catch you perusing the hundreds of books stacked on the couch, the dining room table, and even in the bathroom.

– Aside from a brief stint in New York City, Welty lived in the Tudor-style house from the age of sixteen until her death in 2001. When random admirers dropped by unannounced to have her sign their books, she graciously obliged.

– Welty crafted her fiction in her bedroom, an upstairs room overlooking the street and a landscaped yard. Next to her workspace is a cubbyhole desk mentioned in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Optimist’s Daughter.

– Welty’s editing process was similar to the way a dressmaker works. She would cut sections from manuscript pages, move them around, and pin them in place.

– After the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was gunned down in his driveway in Jackson on June 12, 1963, Welty put her pen to work. She published the short story “Where is the Voice Coming From?” — inspired by the tragic event and the only piece she ever wrote in anger — in the New Yorker magazine less than a month later. An exhibit in the visitor center has details on this and other aspects of Welty’s life and career.

-- Welty and her mother were avid gardeners, and references to plants and gardening abound in Welty’s works. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the restoration of the Welty House gardens, which include sections devoted to roses (her mother’s favorite flower) and camellias (the writer’s preferred bloom). Click here to take a virtual tour of the Welty house and gardens. To celebrate the anniversary, a ticketed luncheon and lecture with author and columnist Julia Reed is taking place March 27 at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.

– The talented Welty was also a photographer. Some of her atmospheric photos of people, plantation ruins, and more are on display at the Mississippi Museum of Art.

Daily Beast Cropped

Mary and Percy Shelley’s brief, secretive courtship took place against an unusual backdrop. Margaret Mitchell’s husband gave her a life-changing gift. Lusty Frieda Lawrence believed she deserved equal credit for her husband’s novels since she unleashed his passion.

We’ve been making our way around the web sharing fun facts about classic writers’ love lives. Read on if you’d like to find out how to seduce like a writer, which scribes took romantic revenge in print, which ones knew how to give presents with presence, and other literary amorousness.

Seduce Like a Writer: How 7 Famous Scribes Wooed

10 Immortal Gifts Between Writers and Their Beloveds

9 Works Inspired by Writers’ Love Lives

Muses and More: 3 Books We Owe to Writers’ Lovers

10 Tempestuous Writerly Romances

5 Writers Who Took Romantic Revenge in Print

8 Literary Heartbreakers

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Booklovers around the world have been helping investigators trace thousands of rare volumes that were looted from one of Italy’s oldest libraries. The shelves of the Girolamini Library in Naples once held works of extraordinary value: a 1518 edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, Galileo’s 1610 treatise Sidereus Nuncius, containing more than 70 drawings of the moon and the stars, and Johannes Kepler’s study of the motions of Mars, Astronomia Nova, described as one of greatest books in the history of astronomy.

But over the past year, this magnificent piece of Italy’s cultural heritage was methodically plundered by a gang of thieves which included the librarian himself.

The looting of the collection was only discovered when Tomaso Montanari, an art historian, visited the library (which is closed to the public) by chance last March. He was horrified to find books strewn around the floor and empty Coca-Cola cans and other rubbish littering the wood-panelled library. After the authorities were notified, a large-scale investigation was launched and to date, about 80% of the stolen tomes have been recovered.

Edgar Allan PoeEdgar Allan Poe’s love triangle with fellow poets Fanny Osgood and Elizabeth Ellet, which played out in print while he was editor of a magazine and published their verse, is one of the fascinating facts highlighted in an exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. (If you want to know more about Poe’s amorous pursuits, check out Writers Between the Covers.)

On view in an atmospheric space with blood-red walls, “Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul” delves into the writer’s life and illuminates his literary career and legacy. Among the nearly one hundred items displayed are an 1845 clipping from a New York newspaper featuring “The Raven” and three copies of Tamerlane and Other Poems, Poe’s first published work and one of the rarest books in American literature. Of the fifty copies printed, only twelve remain.

The exhibit also illuminates Poe’s influence on writers ranging from Charles Dickens to Stephen King. Beat icon Jack Kerouac’s favorite poem by the scribe was Annabel Lee, a work that also influenced Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (as did 26-year-old Poe’s marriage to his 13-year-old cousin).

In turn, Poe borrowed the meter and rhyme scheme for his poem “The Raven” from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship.” He dedicated the collection The Raven and Other Poems to the British poet, who penned a letter to the author that’s part of the Morgan’s exhibit. Along with thanking him for recognizing her, she reported on the reception “The Raven” was receiving abroad.

“Your ‘Raven’ has produced a sensation, a ‘fit horror,’ here in England,” she wrote. “ Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it and some by the music. I hear of persons haunted by the ‘Nevermore’…. I thank you as another reader would thank you for this vivid writing, this power which is felt!”

“Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul” is on view through January 26, 2014.

George EliotIt’s George Eliot’s birthday this week and as the New Yorker and actress Lena Dunham recently pointed out, there’s a lot more to Eliot than her supposedly unattractive appearance and her remarkable (for the time) sex drive.

Like Maggie in The Mill on the Floss, her most autobiographical novel, she was smart, impulsive, and passionate–qualities then frowned upon in a woman. The author and her character also faced the disfavor of a beloved brother for engaging in romantic entanglements that flew in the face of Victorian convention.

Chief among them was her relationship with married philosopher and literary critic George Henry Lewes, whose wife had caused a scandal of her own by having four illegitimate children with another man. Before Eliot embarked on her relationship with Lewes, the bookish, homely spinster had resigned herself to a lonely life. As a result of her large nose, long face and oversized chin, her unattractiveness was regularly remarked upon by others and lamented by her mother, who believed her daughter would never be able to make a suitable match.

NPG Ax17822; George Henry Lewes by John WatkinsNonetheless, many men, including Henry James, found her mesmerizing. Although he described Eliot as “horse-faced” and “magnificently ugly” he enthused that “in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very minute, steals forth and charms the mind.” George Henry Lewes—notoriously ugly himself because of his pitted complexion, large head, and small body—immediately fell for the 31-year-old aspiring novelist upon meeting her in 1851.

Having separated from his philandering wife, Lewes determined to live openly together with Eliot. The pair “honeymooned” in Germany and began referring to themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Lewes. Considering themselves wed in every respect except legally, they went on to live together in domestic harmony for 25 years.

After Lewes died, the 60-year-old writer incited another scandal by marrying a man twenty years her junior. During their honeymoon in Venice, the groom jumped into the Grand Canal, an act gossips buzzed was a suicide attempt or horror at the thought of making love to his bride.

For more insider stories on the love lives of famous writers,  be sure to check out our new book, Writers Between the Covers.


Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty

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