Wordsworth as person and poet: Hannah’s postcard from Dove Cottage

Hannah at Dove Cottage, Spring 2016

Hannah at Dove Cottage, Spring 2016

Why I went…

I think of Wordsworth as an important figure in Romantic poetry and really enjoyed studying his poetry. I liked how Wordsworth took inspiration for his poems by walking through France and the Alps. I myself very much loved walking through Lake District to visit Dove Cottage in Grasmere. It is easy to see where Wordsworth might have gotten some inspiration from the beautiful setting. Wordsworth is known as a writer of remembrance and things past. We are alike in this way because I too like the feeling of nostalgia and that feeling is evident in his works.

 What I got out of the experience…

From this experience, I learned how complex Wordsworth was as a person. He suffered many tragedies in his life, but still created beautiful poetry. In the garden at Dove Cottage, lines from his poems are scattered throughout it accompanying flowers and it really brought everything together. I enjoyed seeing the connection between his words and the surrounding setting. Wordsworth was known for his affinity for nature and I felt the connection he had with nature while at Dove Cottage. There was a lot of inspiration to be found in Grasmere and it was cool to see how Wordsworth used that in his works. Going on the pilgrimage to Dove Cottage gave me a greater appreciation for Wordsworth as a person and as a poet.
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Lea’s postcard from Austen’s Bath

Why I went and what I got out of the experience…

I really wanted to go to Bath, because Jane Austen lived there for a chunk of her life. I felt like I could get closer to her somehow if I went and walked down the same streets that she did. Though Jane Austen didn’t like Bath that much, you can see many locations in Bath that she writes about in her novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. I wanted to immerse myself in the world of the characters in her novels. Maybe not time travel, but get a residual feeling of what it must have been like to live there.

When I got to Bath, I first noticed how very beautiful the city looked like as a whole. The buildings all mashed well together and the atmosphere was different from other larger towns I had seen in England, like York or Lincoln. Bath looked more modern than these medieval towns. I went to the Pump Room and the Roman Baths, both of which are exciting experiences if you like Jane Austen. I also visited the Royal Crescent and saw both the upper and lower rooms while in Bath. I was really happy that I took time out of my semester abroad to go there. It was an amazing experience, and after I went I feel a bit closer to Miss Austen.
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Revising the Author: Shannon’s postcard from Oxford

Shannon with a Mary Shelley revised manuscript page, Oxford, Spring 2016

Shannon with a Mary Shelley revised manuscript page, Oxford, Spring 2016

Why I went…

I am not the best at writing, but I do enjoy it. To know that some of the best writers also needed help revising what they wrote is something that is comforting to me. Mary Shelly became an author of one of the biggest phenomena of all time after she wrote Frankenstein. The story of Frankenstein has entranced so many generations of readers and has inspired many movie directors to create adaptations. As Mary Shelly wrote her story of Frankenstein she could not have imagined that her book would create so much interest. That is what an author hopes and dreams about, but for many that is not the reality. Mary Shelly accomplished her aspirations.

What I got out of the experience…

In the University of Oxford Library there were many books that were displayed because of their literary importance. In Mary Shelly’s case it was not a whole work that was only opened to a page, but a single page that was crossed over with scratches in revision. I found this to be refreshing because it did not show a finished product, but Shelley’s trials as she was writing Frankenstein. In literature the majority of things that you see are the beautiful finished work of an author. Authors are often put onto pedestals by literary buffs because of what the author was able to create. I often forget that the author of a great work does not just sit down one day and say I think “I’m going to write a best-selling book” and then write the whole thing is a day. To write a novel is something that takes time and this exhibit shows the time that is needed to make something great.
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‘A story really does live on forever’: Hannah’s pilgrimage to the Peter Pan statue

Hannah visits the Peter Pan statue, Kensington Gardens, in April 2016

7 Hannah visits the Peter Pan statue, Kensington Gardens, in April 2016

Why I went…

Peter Pan was my favourite story that I read in my Children’s Literature class so I decided that I would visit the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, London. I had heard so much about Peter Pan as a book and a movie but had neither read the book nor seen the film – so encountering this in class was a new experience. I really loved the childishness of the story and the magic surrounding it. Kensington Garden was a beautiful setting for the statue. It was a peaceful area surrounded by trees and near the water. It seemed like a place in which a child could explore.

What I got out of it…

London is my favourite city and Kensington Gardens is a beautiful part of it. It was nice to explore the grounds and get away from the hustle and bustle of London as a city. It was cool to see Peter Pan “in person” and to imagine him as a person rather than a character. The base of the statue features fairies and other woodland animals. I liked how those elements added to the overall setting of the statue. It felt very magical and childlike. Peter Pan on top of the statue looked like what the average size of the character would’ve been like so it was cool to imagine him as a real person. I felt better connected to the story after seeing the statue and recalling the story. Overall, this pilgrimage gave me a better appreciation for the story and I got the feeling that Peter Pan as a character and a story really does live on forever.
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Breathtaking: Sarah’s postcard from Newstead Abbey

Sarah at Lord Byron's ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, March 2016

Sarah at Lord Byron’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, March 2016

Why I went and what I got out of the experience…

On Sunday, 20 March 2016, I travelled to the poet, George Gordon Lord Byron’s, ancestral home, Newstead Abbey. The drive to the Abbey was absolutely stunning, the afternoon sun shone upon the road ahead of us and passing trains speckled the countryside. I chose this location because Byron was my favourite poet that was read from the Romantic period unit in my survey of British literature. Reading Byron’s “Darkness” and “She Walks in Beauty” was a new experience for me, as I had never taken the opportunity to read Byron before. Upon arriving to Newstead Abbey, it was clear to see how the landscape was able to provide inspiration for Byron’s work. His home, however, contained unexpected surprises upon touring it. As an American student on a study abroad experience, I’ve toured countless castles and Elizabethan estates. Ignorantly, when I first saw Newstead Abbey, I assumed that the interior of the abbey would be as gothic as the exterior. However, I found the tour of Byron’s home to have been an enchanting look into the bygone era of a favourite poet. From the vibrant green of the entrance hall to the intricate Victorian long gallery, Newstead Abbey showcased the true splendour of the age. The real star of my excursion, however, was the surrounding garden. There was a sparkling lake that mirrored the grandeur of the estate. There was a small footpath that lead to a stone structure that allowed a view of the house from across the water. It was absolutely breathtaking to see this monolithic stone structure, coexisting with the nature around it. Taking in the place that had housed one of my new favourite writers was a beautiful experience that will stay with me for me years to come. The house even reminded me of Lord Byron’s poetry itself. Its beauty and unending grace has the ability to inspire current and future generations of literary minds like me, just as it had inspired one of Britain’s greatest romantic poets.

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No Country for Dead Authors

Dave McLaughlin, an AHRC-funded PhD Candidate at Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, explores how fans can (dis)place an author.  

Arguably the most hallowed of grounds for fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories is not in London, nor in any of the southern English towns in which the author lived. It is in the small, Swiss village of Meiringen. More accurately, it is a spot near the ledge of a viewing platform over the Reichenbach Falls. It was in this place, so we learn in The Final Problem, that the Great Detective Holmes apparently met his end at the hands of Professor Moriarty, the ‘Napoleon of Crime’, as both fell from the ledge into the watery abyss below.[1]

While reports of Holmes’s death were greatly exaggerated (he was, of course, resurrected almost a decade later in The Adventure of the Empty House[2]), the importance of Meiringen and the Reichenbach Falls in Sherlockian lore has not been. Fascinatingly, the place’s popularity came about not because but in spite of its connection with the author Doyle.

Figure 1: Members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Courtesy of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London

Figure 1: Members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Courtesy of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London

The first recorded ‘pilgrimage’ to the Reichenbach Falls, in 1968, was made by members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.[3] (Fig. 1) They trod a path already laid by one rather obsessed fan: Philip S. Hench (he claimed the ‘S’ stood for ‘Sherlock Holmes’). He and his wife visited the area around Meiringen each year throughout the 1950s, where Hench examined the area by the Falls, taking meticulous measurements and cross-referencing with Doyle’s stories. From this, he produced an enormous, pencil-sketch map of the Falls and surrounding area, annotated to mark the precise locations of events recounted in The Final Problem. (Fig, 2) Later, Hench agitated for a plaque to be placed at the spot he identified as that where Holmes and Moriarty struggled; the spot which became a later site of pilgrimage for fans.[4] (Fig. 3)

Figure 2: Philip S. Hench's map of the Falls. Case 8, Philip S. Hench Papers, University of Minnesota Special Collections and Rare Books, Minneapolis

Figure 2: Philip S. Hench’s map of the Falls. Case 8, Philip S. Hench Papers, University of Minnesota Special Collections and Rare Books, Minneapolis

Figure 3: Hench's plaque. Case 8, Philip S. Hench Papers, University of Minnesota Special Collections and Rare Books, Minneapolis

Figure 3: Hench’s plaque. Case 8, Philip S. Hench Papers, University of Minnesota Special Collections and Rare Books, Minneapolis

If Hench relied so heavily on the text of The Final Problem to interpret the geography of the Reichenbach Falls, why have I said that he and his fellow fans displaced Doyle? The answer lies in the long-standing fan tradition, led by the Baker Street Irregulars, the world’s oldest Sherlockian society, of ‘playing the game’. This involves approaching the Sherlock Holmes stories in the belief that Holmes was a real, Victorian man. Central to this game is the displacement of Doyle from his role as author and creator of Holmes and Watson. For how could Holmes have really lived if he was the literary creation of another man?

Yet, for Sherlockians, Doyle is never cast aside completely. Rather, he has been written into the world of Sherlock Holmes, as the character of ‘the literary agent’. In this telling, Doyle did not write the stories but rather helped to popularize Watson’s records of his and Holmes’s adventures. By allowing fact and fiction to support and deny each other at the same time, fans like Hench have been able to indulge in the idea that Holmes really lived whilst recognising that he exists between the pages of books – books which have Doyle’s name stamped all over them.

This double-displacement of Doyle, from his role as author and from his real-world identity, is most clearly seen in Sherlockian writings about Switzerland. Following in Hench’s footsteps, for instance, was Sherlockian fan and travel writer David Hammer. Exploring sites of Sherlockian significance in Europe for his travel book A Dangerous Game[5], Hammer, like Hench, drew on the events of The Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House, to shape his route. (A good, Sherlockian-produced illustration of this route can be seen in Julian Wolff’s map Operation Reichenbach, from 1948.[6]) (Fig. 4)

Figure 4: Julian Wolff's map of Operation Reichenbach, The Sherlockian Atlas, (New York: Private printing, 1952), from the Library of Congress general collection

Figure 4: Julian Wolff’s map of Operation Reichenbach, The Sherlockian Atlas, (New York: Private printing, 1952), from the Library of Congress general collection

Fascinatingly, Hammer’s text bears only one mention of Doyle – in his displaced form as ‘the literary agent’, when he says on the first page, “there are those who claim they [the book’s locations] were visited not by Holmes but by his biographer or, God save the mark, by his literary agent”.[7]

Hammer displaces Doyle because he is playing the Sherlockian game. Yet, Hammer takes this game further than his predecessors. In his pilgrimage to Meiringen, stopping at various locations on the edges of Doyle’s text, like hotels at which Holmes and Watson might have stayed, Hammer helps to co-produce Holmes the character and his world; adding to the creative efforts of Doyle. With each step towards Switzerland, Hammer widens and deepens the reach of Sherlock Holmes in Europe, well beyond that imagined by Doyle, making Holmes walk in his footsteps. By the time Hammer reaches Meiringen there is little room for Doyle in his version of Sherlockian Europe – as there is no place for Doyle on Holmes’s hallowed ground.

Notes:

[1] Arthur Conan Doyle, The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes, (London: Penguin, 1981, 2009) pp.469-480

[2] ibid. pp.483-496

[3] Michael Saler, As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp.121-124

[4] Various Papers, Philip S. Hench Collection 1877-1995, Cases 8-11, University of Minnesota Special Collections and Rare Books, Minneapolis

[5] David Hammer, A Dangerous Game: Being a Travel Guide to the Europe of Sherlock Holmes, (Indianapolis: Gasogene Press, 1997)

[6] Julian Wolff, The Sherlockian Atlas, (New York: private printing, 1952), n.p.

[7] Hammer, Dangerous Game, p.1

200 years of publishing: Charlotte’s postcard from 50 Albemarle Street

Charlotte visits the house of the publisher John Murray, 50 Albemarle Street

Charlotte visits the house of the publisher John Murray, 50 Albemarle Street

Why I went…

There is no fireplace more famous than the one at the house of John Murray, 50 Albemarle Street, London, where Byron’s memoirs were famously burnt in a decision that has haunted historians for hundreds of years. I wanted to see the very site- maybe there were still ashes there, or a telling fragment hiding somewhere in the hearth? Sadly, but rather expectedly, this was not the case, but instead what I did see were rooms that had remained identical to the impressions, sketches and engravings made of them 200 years earlier. To see Byron presiding over the fireplace reminded me that his literary legacy remains as indomitable now as it did when he woke up and found himself famous after the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812.

What I got out of the experience…

I was not expecting to see as many portraits and familiar faces staring down at me as I did. To see Southey, Gifford, Barrow, and the multitude of Tories who hung from the walls felt like Murray’s old Quarterly Review crowd were still there. A haunting experience indeed. I was also shown the rooms that Lady Caroline Lamb used to stalk and tracked her route through the publishing house, where she would wait for news of Byron both during and after the affair. It really highlighted the sociability of the publishing house; this was not just a space to discuss contracts, quantities and editions, but this was a place where decisions that are still critical to our understanding of literary history were made. It was a reminder that Byron’s publisher was not his alone, but that Jane Austen and Charles Darwin shared the same seats that Byron would have occupied himself, and that an articulate and humorous female writer and a progressive world-changing scientist were indeed Byron’s colleagues.

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