Literary Ramblings

While in Massacusetts, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Concord (of Thoreau’s Walden fame) and Salem, the epicentre of the late C17th witch trials, immortalised in Arthur Miller’s wonderful, yet tragic play, The Crucible. But of course, once you start digging for literary dirt in this neck of the woods, there is really no end to what you might find. 

I thought I’d whip through my proposed itinerary in a day. But of course, in accordance with the theory that nothing ever goes quite to plan, my first stop, Robert Frost’s Farm in Derry, NH turned into a wonderfully relaxed 2-3 hour visitation, which included great conversations with the guides (who clearly love their jobs), a short film (in which Frost & his eldest daughter Lesley were featured reading from his extensive collection of poetry), a tour of the house and a ramble through the grounds (immortalised in such poems as ‘Hyla Brook’ and ‘Mending Wall’).

Robert Frost Farm

The house had fallen so badly into disrepair after Frost and his family left the area that when he returned upon his wife’s death with a view to burying her on the property, he was so disappointed in the state he found it in that he chose to bury her in Bennington, Vermont, instead, where they had lived for a decade in the 20s. (He is buried in Vermont too.) When the house was purchased by the State of New Hampshire in 1965, thereby guaranteeing its future preservation, Lesley (who was 9 when they moved away), assisted in the restoration process by way of her journals (the writing of which was a daily practice engendered by  Frost in all of his children) and her memories of the family’s time on the farm.

Bathroom/Utility room

Kitchen

Pantry


Many pieces on display were original to the house, but where originals were unobtainable for whatever reason, Lesley’s memory and journalistic attention to detail helped fill the gaps, even down to the funky kitchen wallpaper:

Frost’s bedroom

The parlour

The servant’s quarters were pretty rough (note the nails protruding through the roof beams), but with the view this room afforded of the back paddock, one could argue that this was the best room in the house. That said, I can’t imagine the servants would have been granted much leisure time in which to enjoy the view…


The grounds were just beautiful. It is easy to see why he was so inspired to record his observations in verse:

“Good fences make good neighbours”

“We love the things we love for what they are”

The guide who took us through the house had a great sense of humour which served to highlight Frost’s own funloving side. It was here, and during the film (hearing him speak his own verse for the first time), that I was struck by the lightheartedness with which so much of his poetry is imbued. She told several funny stories but the one that stood out for me was his use of the telephone, which he’d had installed in order to phone ahead to see whether he’d be required to turn up to teach at the local school in times of snow. It was a party line, with 12 families sharing the same wire, and Frost, having spent a good bit of his life to that point away from New England, was fascinated by the way people in New Hampshire spoke. Wishing to learn the local parlance, he would listen in on his neighbours’ conversations, informing his kids that his eavesdropping was research. 

I departed Frost Farm for Kerouac country. Jack Kerouac is the author of Dharma Bums, Big Sur, The Subterraneans and Lonesome Traveller to name a few, though his most famous work is probably On the Road. I drove south to Lowell, Massachusetts, the town of his youth, and setting for the fictional Galloway in The Town and the City, his first semi-autobiographical novel. While the town yielded little in terms of direct references to Kerouac (the information centre was sadly out of self-guided walking tour maps), there is a National Historic Park guide to Kerouac’s Lowell available online and a Kerouac Commemorative at Eastern Canal Park.


Although I could find little trace of Kerouac in the town itself, a longer visit may have borne more fruit. This is (one of) the downside(s) to metered parking… Nevertheless, it is a cool little town, one whose mill-industry history is ever present, a factor that has been crucial in helping it attain National Historical Park status.

Kerouac’s Lowell


The grave yielded better results, though being just one of four cemeteries in the area, it took me a couple of attempts before I found the right one.

Wrong cemetery…

Getting warmer…

Bingo


The grave site was littered with all manner of references to Kerouac’s life, work & influence: pens, handwritten notes, alcohol minis, cigarette butts & lighters, dried flowers, even a baseball. It was a fitting assemblage for one of the Beat Generations best loved poets.

By the time I departed Lowell for Concord, the sun was already well past the meridian, so I only had time for one more stop before pitching my tent in the Boston Minuteman Campground (and finally getting it dry). That stop was Orchard House, home of the Alcott family, and setting for Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Sadly, no photos of the interior were permitted



Bronson Alcott built his daughter a desk, and Louisa wrote the novel over a 70 day period (a kind of longhand version of NaNoWriMo), basing events on her own family’s experiences growing up in the Orchard House. She became, for a time, the wealthiest living female author in the United States as a result of Little Women and the book has been continually in print since it’s original publication. So write your stories ladies!

This was actually on display at the B&B I stayed at in Damascus back in May

Louisa May Alcott was a feminist, and was well ahead of her time in many ways. Although the nation wouldn’t give women the vote in federal elections until the 1920s, Massachusetts passed a state law in 1879, allowing women (who owned property and who sat on their school council) to vote in local town meetings (on issues relating to women and children). So Louisa, being well-versed in the politics of the time, promptly enrolled to vote, and in 1880, at the first available opportunity, she became the first woman in Concord to have her opinion counted in matters of government.

The Alcotts were not the only forward thinking individuals in Concord. Nathaniel Hawthorne (author of several novels including The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables) lived next door, at a property called The WaysideRalph Waldo Emerson (author of such essays as ‘Self Reliance’ and ‘Nature’) and Henry David Thoreau (author of Walden and On Civil Disobedience among others) were also near neighbours and frequent visitors to the Alcotts’ home. It was in Concord, fertile ground for this meeting of minds, that the Transcendentalist movement had its beginnings. 


Unfortunately their respective places of residence were not open for inspection at the time of my visit. Well, Thoreau’s cabin by Walden Pond (which he built with his own hands and where he lived self-sufficiently & in relative solitude for a period of approximately two years) is no longer in existence at all, though the site where the cabin once stood is marked. 


A replica of the cabin can be found at the Concord Museum, along with a substantial collection of Thoreau’s belongings, and a complete reconstruction of Emerson’s study (all original to his former place of residence).

Replica of Thoreau’s cabin

Emerson’s study

All four authors’ graves (and those of their families) are gathered close together on Authors Ridge, a dedicated area of Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery:

Sculpted by Daniel Chester French (the man responsible for the Lincoln Memorial)

Thoreau

Hawthorne

Alcott

Emerson

A lovely setting for these literary woodsfolk

4 thoughts on “Literary Ramblings

  1. Hello dear Lou, It seems that the change in structure/focus of your journey has landed you right in a very interesting slice of American literary history. Some very interesting pics in your latest blog entry.

    With nice distractions like this your rate of progress may be slowed a little, though perhaps compensated by having 4 wheels.

    We are now at the shack so Mum can indulge in Olympic Games saturation on telly. Aus won a couple of gold medals in the pool on day one, plus bronze in archery.

    We had a firewood delivery today so putting that away (4 tonne) will keep us out of mischief for a bit.

    Weather has been pretty cool (-6 to 6) but no wind so pleasant in sunny patches. Pic of remnant snow attached.

    Oh, and the jigsaw puzzle is finished!

    The fishing season opened yesterday (6 August) so I’ll wet a line at some stage.

    Love Dad and Mum

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

    • Hi Dad and Mum! Lovely to hear from you. Sorry I’ve been remiss in my correspondence. Am just penning (i.e. typing) you an email now. Will send it through before I go to bed tonight. Love Lou xo

      Like

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