Monroeville Courthouse Interior

Harper Lee has been making headlines with the news that a novel she wrote in the mid-1950s has been rediscovered and will be published this summer. In Go Set a Watchman, a grown-up Scout Finch returns to her southern hometown, Maycomb, twenty years after the events in To Kill a Mockingbird unfold. What better place to celebrate this literary milestone than by visiting Monroeville, Alabama, Lee’s hometown and the model for Maycomb. Surrounded by cotton fields and red clay roads, this tiny town has been designated as the “Literary Capital of Alabama.”

– Monroeville residents weren’t impressed when To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, believing that the world would have little interest in their local happenings. Despite the book garnering a Pulitzer Prize, it took a visit from popular actor Gregory Peck—who starred as Atticus Finch in the film version—to convince them that Monroeville was officially on the map.

– Monroeville is home to one of the most famous courtrooms in the world. Time has stood still at the Old Monroe County Courthouse, where Lee used to watch her lawyer father practice his profession and later used it as the setting for one of the most important scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird. An exact replica of the courtroom was re-created on a Hollywood sound stage.

– Order in the court is restored annually. Every spring an all-local acting troupe known as the Mockingbird Players stages a two-act play based on Lee’s novel, with the second part taking place in the famed courtroom. Audience members are part of the play, acting as trial spectators by taking a seat in the courtroom’s main floor—or in the balcony like Dill, Scout, and her brother, Jem, do in the story. (Be sure to plan ahead. The play sells out fast.)

– Harper Lee isn’t the only famous writer from Monroeville. Truman Capote was the inspiration for Dill, Scout’s scrappy sidekick. Or so Capote liked to tell it. Now a museum, the Courthouse has an exhibit highlighting his childhood in Monroeville, where he spent much of his first ten years living with relatives, and how it influenced his fiction.

–  Fictional Atticus Finch is recognized by the Alabama Bar Association. As the first of its Legal Milestones monuments, the organization donated a bronze plaque, located on the courthouse’s south lawn, in tribute to the “Lawyer-Hero.”

– Jane Austen’s novels inspired Harper Lee. In an interview Lee gave soon after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, she revealed that her aim as a writer was to emulate Austen by chronicling the “rich social pattern” of small-town Southern life.

[Photo © Monroe County Heritage Museums]

The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (100 years)

221b Bake Street, London, Sherlock Homes Museum

Sherlock Holmes’ famous flat, 221b Baker Street, London

In the fourth and final novel starring Sherlock Holmes, a coded message warning of imminent danger is delivered to his London flat and hastily sends him crime-solving in the countryside. Visitors to the fictional sleuth’s Victorian-era quarters at 221bBaker Street—once shared with roommate and detecting partner Dr. Watson—can be forgiven for thinking he might reappear there at any moment. The rooms he “rented” have been vividly re-created just as they’re described in “A Study in Scarlet” and other tales. On display at the Sherlock Holmes Museum are the detective’s most prized possessions, including his deerstalker cap and the Persian slipper where he stored his tobacco.

The Metamorphoses by Franz Kafka (100 years)

Franz Kafka Museum, Prague (photo: prague.eu)

Franz Kafka Museum, Prague (photo: prague.eu)

The strange story of a man who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a large, insect-like creature was one of only a few of Franz Kafka’s works published during his lifetime. Before his death from tuberculosis at age 41, the relatively unknown author implored a friend, Max Brod, to burn his diaries, manuscripts, and letters unread. Instead Brod overrode the directive and published three of Kafka’s unfinished novels, including The Trial and The Castle. Today, Prague’s Franz Kafka Museum continues the work of Brod and others who refused to let the writer fade into anonymity. Some not-to-miss items are the last known photo of Kafka and the final letter he wrote to his parents the day before he died. w

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (150 years)

Alice in Wonderland Window Oxford

Stained glass window in the Great Hall, Christ Church College, Oxford, UK

The original manuscript of Carroll’s beloved book is usually on display in the rare treasures gallery at the British Library in London. Soon Alice admirers in the U.S. will have a chance to view the manuscript, the centerpiece of exhibits at the Morgan Library in New York City (June 26-October 11) and the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia (October 14-March 27, 2016). Across the pond, in Oxford, Carroll was a mathematician at Christ Church College, where the dean’s daughters, Alice and Edith Liddell, inspired the storytelling that eventually led to his famed book. Inside the college’s Great Hall is a stained glass window featuring images of the fictional Alice and the characters she encounters underground. For more places with Carroll connections, check out Culture 24’s article “Alice in Wonderland: On the Trail of Lewis Carroll.”

Emma by Jane Austen (200 years)

The English cottage where Jane Austen conjured up the escapades of Emma Woodhouse.

The English cottage where Jane Austen conjured up the escapades of Emma Woodhouse.

The sparkling satire Emma flowed from Jane Austen’s pen in a 17th century cottage in Chawton, England. Prior to moving into the abode, located on her wealthy brother’s country estate, in 1809, none of her work had been published. Her time in Chawton proved prolific. In addition to Emma, the novelist turned out Mansfield Park and Persuasion and revised Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. The writing table where she worked is on display in the cottage, now Jane Austen’s House Museum. Emma-related events are taking place throughout the year, leading up to the anniversary tie-in in December.

Don Quixote, Part II by Miguel Cervantes (400 years)

Don Quixote's "giants" in the Spanish countryside.

Don Quixote’s “giants” in the Spanish countryside.

On a hillside in Campo de Criptana, Spain, witness the spectacles put on by the famous windmills that Don Quixote valiantly battled after mistaking them for giants. The comic misadventures of the chivalry-obsessed knight errant and his faithful squire, Sancho Pancho, were enormously popular with 17th century readers. Miguel Cervantes is believed to have begun writing what is considered the first modern novel while imprisoned in a cave underneath the Casa de Medrano, some 60 miles south of where the windmills turn. He had the misfortune of being imprisoned at least twice for irregularities in his accounts while working his day job as a tax collector.

Hemingway House

Or there will be soon. The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West is developing an app that allows users virtual access to the property.

The sun-drenched island was supposed to be a brief stopover for Hemingway after he left Paris in 1928. Instead he found himself drawn to Key West’s rough-and-tumble charm, and it became his first home on U.S. soil after spending most of his adult life abroad. Three years later he moved into a two-story Spanish colonial-style house, today the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.

It’s one of our favorite literary sites, a delight for both bibliophiles and cat lovers. The museum’s app offers details about Hemingway’s days in Key West and an overview of his books, poems, and short stories. It also has a tour through the grounds, the house, and the studio where the writer penned his semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms and other works.

Marlene Deitrich

The best part: the app introduces Marlene Dietrich (in the photo above hanging out in Hemingway’s bedroom) and the other cats who have the run of the place. Legend has it that a ship’s captain once gave Hemingway a six-toed cat, and the 50 or so felines that live on the property today are its descendants.

The app is available in eight languages. You can sign up on the museum’s website if you’d like to receive an email notification when it’s released.

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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