More on literary pilgrimages

Just spotted this article: Jo March Was Born Here, all about literary historic sites.  It also includes a slide show (though I was unable to read the complete captions-not sure if that was the website or my computer).  Some favorites of kidlit history are mentioned: Laura Ingalls, Jo March, Anne Shirley (though not in the slide show), Betsy-Tacy and Ramona Quimby (who I need to revisit).

However, I do have to respectfully disagree with the following statement: Do we know Anne Shirley better if we see her Green Gables with our own eyes? Does the building that occupies 221B Baker St. today say anything about the character of Sherlock Holmes? The easy answer: Of course not! If fiction is about imagination, these places are at their most authentic first in the minds of the writers who elevated them and then of readers who keep them alive. The pedestrian gables and attics and apartments themselves—in Prince Edward Island and London, respectively—are just a shell. To think they have any greater meaning is tragically middlebrow.   She later goes on to mention that she took a trip that included visits to several sites related to her childhood reading, concluding: The experience was alternatively transportive and underwhelming.

I’ll never forget the chill than ran up my spine when my friend Amber and I first glimpsed Prince Edward Island.  I’ll never forget gazing in amazement at the tiny desk Alcott used to write Little Women.  And I’ll never forget the day I dipped my toes in both Murmuring Lake and Plum Creek. 

Could I have continued to love these books without visiting these key places?  Absolutely!  Does the “real” thing not always match up with what’s in my own imagination?  Sure.  Have I ever been disappointed in any of these pilgrimages?  Absolutely not.  Does something in the book change after the visit?  Yes, but in a very good way.    I know these characters and their creators better after walking the land and halls that they walked.  It’s too bad the author of this slide show doesn’t feel the same way. 

Are you a fan of literary pilgrimages?  Or would you rather stick to the book world?

Published by Melissa Prycer

Professional history and museum nerd, among other things. Working to help other small museums however I can. Museum educator and executive director, most recently at Dallas Heritage Village.

4 thoughts on “More on literary pilgrimages

  1. Goodness, “tragically middlebrow”? I had no idea. Reminds me of Rosemary in Sister of the Bride proclaiming that engagement rings are, “so sort of, I don’t know, middle class.”

    I am also amused by her comment that the Betsy-Tacy Society is “surprisingly active.” Left-handed much?

    Back to her point: Of course the books are what matters. Of course you can fully enjoy a book without ever once going near where it takes place. The book takes you there.

    But when you love a book, visiting the site is a delightful bonus. Walking through the stunning Cathedral of St. John the Divine was amazing for me because I had walked there first in the pages of Madeleine L’Engle.


  2. The “tragically middlebrow” thing seemed out of left field to me. I view us more like a secret club–only we know how to find the magic of children’s books.
    I don’t think the author of that post is of the race that knows Joseph.


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