Entering an author’s home is entering their world – an insight into their way of life, their tastes and personality. Breathing in the literary air in these houses may even inspire you in your own writing endeavours! Here are our suggestions for a variety of places to visit.
Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire is the only house where Jane lived and wrote open to the public as a museum. In this house Jane revised the three manuscripts she had written previously, but which had remained unpublished. She then wrote three more novels and started one more, which remained unfinished at the time of her death. The cottage houses a collection of Jane Austen artefacts, and still retains the charms of the early 19th century home.
The Parsonage in Haworth, home of the sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, is run by the Brontë Society, one of the oldest literary societies in the world, founded in 1893.The museum library contains the world’s most comprehensive collection of Brontë manuscripts, letters, early editions of the novels and poetry, and secondary material on the famous family and their work. The house is furnished as it would have been when the sisters lived there, and contains many personal belongings including clothing.
This small dwelling in Somerset witnessed the birth of one of the greatest movements in English literature, Romantic poetry. Much of the inspiration for Coleridge’s writing is still evident at Coleridge Cottage, and there are often activities that you can take part in. This weekend there is apple pressing, and the week after, readings of ‘Spooky Tales’.
Another great Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, lived at Dove Cottage with his sister Dorothy, and the cottage still has many of their personal belongings. Next to the cottage is The Jerwood Centre, an award-winning building holding the manuscripts, books and paintings not on show in the museum. 90% of known Wordsworth verse drafts are kept here, along with letters and other important documents, including drafts of Wordsworth’s great work ‘The Prelude’, and all of Dorothy Wordsworth’s surviving notebooks. There are also many manuscripts and letters from other famous writers, including verse and prose manuscripts by Samuel Taylor Coleridge include two surviving drafts of ‘Ode to Dejection’ and a collection of 250 manuscripts by Thomas De Quincey includes the largest surviving manuscript of the Confessions of an English Opium Eater.
Whilst you’re in the Lake District, you could also visit Miss Potter’s farmhouse, Hill Top. Take time to explore the garden and views that inspired some of Beatrix Potter’s beautifully illustrated stories. For younger readers, The World of Beatrix Potter centre could be a good Easter holiday visit. You can visit Peter Rabbit’s garden, see Mrs Tiggywinkle’s kitchen, and take a virtual tour of the places that inspired the works.
“A white Georgian house of about 1780 or 90, with woods sweeping down to the Dart below, and a lot of fine shrubs and trees – the ideal house, a dream house.”
Agatha and her second husband, Max Mallowan, bought ‘Greenways’ in Devon as a holiday home, spending summer and often Christmas there with family and friends. Taking the advice of a young architect they made renovations to the house, and were also keen gardeners. Agatha’s daughter, who later lived in the house with her husband, gave the house to the National Trust in 2000.
221b Baker Street is the fictional home of the famed detective Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Baker Street now houses the Sherlock Holmes museum as well as a nine-foot bronze statue of Holmes. The museum is an atmospheric time warp, recreating the flat that Holmes shares with John Watson. With hand written notes, newspapers, Sherlock’s pipe and magnifying glass, period furniture and life size models, the sequence of rooms vividly brings his home to life.
The Mount is the stylish stately home in Lenox, Massachusetts, where the author wrote Ethan Frome and House of Mirth. As a keen interior decorator, Wharton wrote ‘The Decoration of Houses’ in 1897 together with architect Ogden Codman, Jr. Wharton designed The Mount house with Codman, putting into action the ideas in their book.
Dickinson spent much of her life at home at The Homestead, Amherst, Massachusetts, not often leaving the grounds of her estate. She wrote many of her 1,800 poems at The Homestead, yet she shared very few of them, and less than twelve were published in her lifetime. After Dickinson’s death in 1886, her sister Lavinia discovered Dickinson’s poems and published them in 1890. If you fancied writing your own poetry in the same spot as Emily, the museum is now offering studio sessions for one or two participants at a time to turn Dickinson’s room into their own for one or two hour sessions.
Yasnaya Polyana which means ‘Bright Glade’, is the Russian estate where Tolstoy lived his life, writing both Anna Karenina and War and Peace here. Located close to the city of Tula, Tolstoy preferred to spend as much time as possible in his ‘inaccessible literary stronghold’. Soon after his death, the Soviet government made it into a state museum, and it has remained open ever since.
Have you visited any of these places? Do you have any recommendations for other authors’ houses to see?
Do let us know!