Visiting Emerson and Hawthorne

Literary Travel in New England

Book Cover: Little Women
While there are plenty of literary sites in New England, Concord is the Mother Lode for visiting the homes of authors…like Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, the house described in Little Women. Within a couple of miles, you can also visit Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s House. My favorite, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home--the Wayside– was also inhabited by Alcott and others. It was the age of Transcendentalism and they all gathered here.

Concord River
Concord River from the Old North Bridge

On a recent trip to Concord, I went to the Minute Man National Historic Park. Members of my family were visiting sites connected to our relatives, and we had several ancestors who fought in the Battles of Concord and other Revolutionary War battles. I wrote about Jeduthan Stone, Minute man, at my other site, Ancestors in Aprons and it was wonderful to walk the same road he had walked in 1775.

THe Old Manse, Hawthorne lived here.
The Old Manse. One time home of Emerson and Hawthorne.

But the bookworm in me was most interested to realize that The Old Manse, a house with a strong literary history, stood on a knoll just above the Concord’s North Bridge.  In fact, the inhabitants at the time–the family of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather– could have looked down and watched the battle from the second story window.

Emerson's Desk
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Desk at the Old Manse, where he wrote the collection of essays called Nature.

Much later, the house was home to Ralph Waldo Emerson for a while, and the beautiful wooded hills and meadows around helped inspire his thoughts in the book of essays that he composed at this desk, Nature (1836). Nature is called the foundation of Transcendentalism with its emphasis on using nature as a guide to living.

As  newlyweds, Nathanial Hawthorne and his bride, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, an artist, rented the Old Manse and lived there from 1842 to 1845.  At the time, he was a struggling writer, seemingly unsuccessful and was supported by his wife’s painting. Thoreau, who lived nearby, dined with the Hawthornes.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's desk
Hawthorne’s desk in the Old Manse, Concord, MA.

While they lived there, he wrote a collection of short stories,  Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) which is now waiting on my Kindle, and his wife etched a poem on the window of the room where Hawthorne’s small desk stands beside the fireplace.

There is something magical about seeing the actual desk on which masterpieces were composed–imagining the now famous master, bent over the paper, struggling to find the right word.

Amazingly, the house, built in 1769, retained its Colonial look and most of its original furniture.  Among the things you can see on a guided tour is wallpaper restored to look identical to the original, and an enormous bookcase stuffed with antique books.

Battle Road, Concord
Battle Road in Minute Man National Historic Park, Concord MA

Also amazing to anyone who has ever stood on a busy street and tried to picture life 200 years ago, this corner of Massachusetts allows you to step back in time. It has been protected by the Minute Man Historic Park, State Park Reserves and other measures that allow you to appreciate the natural beauty that inspired the Transcendentalists and the landscape that saw colonists hiding behind trees to fire at formally arrayed British soldiers.

Concord Old North Bridge
British Soldier at Concord Old North Bridge

There are regular events at the Old Manse (see the website linked above.)  My grandson and I followed a young man through the house. Since we were the only two on the tour, he tailored his remarks to our interests, and amazed us with his knowledge.  At the beginning and end of the tour, you pass through the gift shop.  This is no ordinary gift shop. Yes, you can buy postcards.  But you can also choose from a large collection of writings by the great American writers who lived here.

Whether it is historic roots or literary roots you want to explore, I urge you to visit Concord. Don’t miss the Old Manse.

Note: I could not visit the only house Hawthorne ever owned, The Wayside, because it was under reconstruction. I had previously visited the home of Little Women, Orchard House, and the Ralph Waldo Emerson home.  But what a feast for you when you visit. Seeing where these authors lived and worked really brings American literature alive.

Photos are all my own, and I would appreciate no reuse without permission.  The photos of the writer’s desks were taken with special permission, because photography is not permitted inside the Old Manse.

The house stands within the Minute Man National Historic Park, however it is maintained by the Trustees of Reservations that protects 100 cultural, historic and environmental treasures in Massachusetts. Check the website for days of guided tours. Prices range from $5 for children to $9 for adults.

Note:  There are links to Amazon in this post, because I want to make it easy for you to purchase copies of these books in either print or electronic editions.  I am an Amazon affiliate, so any purchases you make through my links will help support A Travelers Library. Thank you.


Dark Family Tale in Northern Ireland

Destination: Ireland

Book: Black Lake by Johanna Lane

When you travel, do you like to visit old homes–you know, the Downton Abbey kind of manor, where the titled family has had to let visitors traipse through in order to make enough money to pay the taxes?

If you have visited, or stayed overnight in one of those places, you may have wondered what it would be like to turn your home into a place of amusement for the masses.  What does it do to the soul of the place? To the souls of the family members?

In Black Lake Johanna Lane explores those questions along with deeper, more existential questions that plague the family.  She presents the point of view of each family member–mother (Marianne), father (John), son and daughter (Philip and Kate)–one at a time.  The novel moves through a year when each person tries to cope with tragic changes in their lives.

Glenveagh Castle, Ireland. Photo by Stephen Collins. Used with Creative Commons license.

Dulough, John’s family’s grand family estate stands looking out to water from a cliff overlooking Black Lake in Donegal County, Ireland, with woods behind the house. Stately gardens surround the house. The atmosphere is cold and mostly gloomy, a suitable setting for such a serious story.

Marianne, a city girl from Dublin, has adjusted to her marriage with John and the family heritage through her work with the garden.  John has hidden from her the financial problems that came with the estate.

Irish castle
Glenveagh National Park, Ireland. Photo by Raphael Schön. Used with Creative Commons License.

9-year-old Philip tries to understand the world of the grownups and is most fascinated by his father’s lessons about the ice age. Glaciers carved out this land. The effect of ice on land and the effect of the restrained coolness of emotions on family members underlies the story. Kate, at twelve, is never quite sure what she really thinks and feels. Both children are shaken when they must move out of their accustomed home and routines into a humble cottage while tourists traipse through what was once their private domain.

Lane skillfully wraps you in the landscape and magically captures just the right tone for each character.

The  book’s circular structure means thoughts of one person are echoed, generally in a slightly different key, as we move from one point of view to another.

Johanna Lane has written an intriguing book that gives you much to ponder.  Not the least, for traveler’s is the conundrum of how we peek into other people’s lives as we visit new places and how the observer affects the observed.

In the interview linked to her name in the first paragraph (above), Lane is asked a question pertinent for Travelers Who Read:

Which Irish authors do you think do a great job of capturing the countryside?

John McGahern — he wrote 10 novels set in the Irish countryside. His vision is a lot bleaker. He grew up in quite an abusive household. For him, the country is beautiful, but also a trap … I think he’s one of my favorite Irish authors. And Anne Enright, of course.

So there you go–read Black Lake, then explore the writer’s writers.

Or pop over to Ireland and visit the Glenveagh National Park, which Lane used as a model for the estate in this book.

Note:  The publisher provided me with a copy of the book for review.  My opinions are totally my own.  There is a link to Amazon here. If you’re shopping for books or anything else at Amazon, it costs you no more to use these links, and you’ll be supporting A Traveler’s Library. Thanks. The two photos of Glenveagh are from Flickr. Click on a picture to learn more.

Another Chilling Read from the Arctic

 book cover: The Bone Seeker

Destination: Canada, The Arctic Circle

Book:  The Bone Seeker, An Edie Kiglatuk Mystery, by M. J. McGrath (NEW 2014)

“The boundaries of murder were unlimited.  Like some far distant universe, every individual act of killing was dark and vast and unknowable.” From The Bone Seeker by M. J. McGrath

The Arctic
Land and ice and water near Kuujuaq. Photo by Murray Dewing at Flickr.

I love finding books that are not only fun to read, but also shed light on a place and a culture that I know next to nothing about.  So how many books have you read that take place in the Arctic and have an Inuit heroine?

One difference between southerners (anyone south of the Arctic Circle) and the Inuits (Eskimos) is that we southerners think of ice as frozen water.  However, in the Arctic, they think of water as melted ice. Edie Kiglatuk, an Inuit, shares this bit of cultural difference along with many others along the way to solving the mystery of a missing teen girl.

If you need to cool off from  hot summer weather, let M. J. McGrath transport you to an island. No soft breezes and palm trees here, though.  Just too much daylight all summer long. Edie Kiglatuk, the main character is uncomfortably warm when the temperature raises above freezing. That makes McGrath mysteries the perfect books for ‘chilling.’

Artic wolf tracks
Photo by Johannes Zielcke, from Flickr

Edie has taken a summer school teaching position in the town of Kuujuaq, a small town in Nunaviq in far north Quebec Province. In summer, the sun never sets on this Arctic region, and the constant light plays havoc with people’s sleep cycles.

Edie, while not officially a detective, brings a wealth of experience and appropriate skills to the job when her friend Sergeant Derk Paliser, the only law in these parts, recruits her to help. They are searching for the killer of a teenage girl, Martha, whose body is found in a lake that is suspected by the Inuits of harboring evil spirits. Edie is an expert tracker, and sees things that elude people more used to walking on pavement than on ice.

As in the previous Edie Kiglatuk mystery that  I reviewed, The Boy in the Snow, set in Alaska,  The Bone Seeker reveals a much wider evil conspiracy than a simple murder.  In Boy in the Snow, Edie uncovered corrupt politicians and a human trafficking ring.  Here, the suspense builds and you will not fully realize the meaning of the book’s title until you arrive near the end.

You know you’re in for a wild ride when the Canadian Defense Department shuts down the investigation and takes away the body and all evidence.  Derek resents the non cooperation of the Army and his anger makes him less than a diplomat. Edie keeps some of her actions secret even from Derek. The native people on the island don’t trust any outsiders (qalunaat), even Derek, who is only half Inuit. Meanwhile, a female attorney who has been representing the tribe in a suit against the government aimed at cleaning up contaminants for the “evil” lake, endangers herself by refusing to back down when old paperwork hints at deep secrets.

As you can see, there is plenty of conflict to go around, and plenty of strong characters who refuse to “behave” when the government wants them to back away.

 NOTES: I am an Amazon affiliate, which means if you click on the book cover and shop at Amazon, A Traveler’s Library will earn a few cents to help pay the Internet rent. Thanks.

Click on photos to learn more about the photographers.