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If you’re an avid book reader, you will no doubt have wondered where your favourite titles were written - did the authors have a “room of their own”, a shed in the garden away from the noise, or just a simple desk in the corner?
While you can’t step into your favourite novels, you can visit the preserved homes of some of world’s greatest writers. You can walk down the streets and lanes they frequented, step into their hallways and spend a moment in their private spaces, where they wrote the literary masterpieces we cherish today.
While book fandom is bigger than ever, flocking to visit the homes of famous authors is nothing new. In fact, the Bronte sisters became so famous in their day that visitors would flock by the thousands to peer at the house where the sisters lived, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of their literary heroes.
Here is a short roundup of some of our favourite writer’s homes you can still visit today, from both sides of the pond!
- Louisa May Alcott - Concord, Massachusetts
With its deep black wooden frontage, often framed by colourful Concord, Massachusetts foliage, there are few literary homes that are quite as distinctive as the home of the writer Louisa May Alcott. Fans of Little Women will feel transported into the book, as Alcott based it loosely on her own life. You can also spot it in the 2020 adaptation.
Built in 1857, “Orchard House” was thusly named as it had an adjacent orchard of forty apple trees. The Alcott family moved frequently before settling down here in 1877. Louisa wrote at a modest “shelf-desk” custom built for her by her father.
Louisa’s father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was an educator and social reformer. Her mother, Abigail May Alcott was a social worker. As in Little Women, Louisa was one of four sisters. Educated by their father, they grew up in a dynamic and socially informed home. They no doubt benefited as well from their father’s close relationships to other illustrious Concord residents, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. A keen writer from eight years old, her published career began at twenty-two with a book of poetry called Flower Fables.
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Orchard House is probably one of the best preserved writer’s homes as it has undergone nearly no modifications or changes since the Alcotts lived there - even the furniture inside is theirs. The house is open all year round for guided tours. If you make a special journey, be sure visit the The Thoreau Farm, Henry David Thoreau’s birthplace and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house, both of which are museums open to the public.
3. Ernest Hemingway - Key West, Florida
While Hemingway, originally from Illinois, was a world traveller, none of his locales are as famous as his last one in Key West, Florida.
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After a stint in Cuba, he and his wife Pauline arrived in Key West in 1928. In their first few weeks there he finished his autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms. It was here he also developed his love of deep sea fishing. In 1931 they moved into Whitehead Street, a crumbling but beautiful Spanish Colonial-style house, purchased for them by Pauline’s uncle.
The house is now open to the public year-round. It is full of the European antiques that the Hemingways collected over the years, as well the many six-toed cats descended from their cats. There is a beautiful swimming pool, one of the first ever built in Key West, that cost an eye-watering $20,000 to build (around $300,000 today).
With his crew of fellow fisherman, Hemingway (nicknamed “Papa” by his friends) became a local legend and a fully fledged member of Key West’s quirky and colourful residents. It would be the setting of his novel To Have and Have Not. After he and Pauline divorced, Hemingway kept the house but moved to Cuba but would continue to visit frequently for the next twenty years until his death in 1961.
4. Virginia Woolf - Monk’s House, Sussex
While the crowds might flock to the original Bloomsbury set house Charlston, where Woolf spent a lot of time, true fans will want to vist the modest house she shared with her husband, Leonard. A modest 17th century weatherboard cottage with a once lively garden - in fact, it was this beautiful garden that persuaded the Woolfs to buy the house in 1919. Already owning a home in Lewes, Virginia was looking for a peaceful bolt-hole to write in, away from the tumult of London.
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She fell in love with the place, and imagined that they could live there for the rest of their lives. Over the next ten years, they made some adjustments, including an indoor bathroom and a bedroom for Virginia that overlooked the garden. The overrun garden was transformed into a beautiful orchard and vegetable patch.
Comprised of a two-room extension, her “writing lodge” became her work place. Furnished simply, with paintings by her sister Vanessa Bell, she would spend all her days here writing and sometimes even sleep there at night. After her death, Leonard lived there and left it to his then-partner, the artist Trekkie Ritchie, who in turn bequeathed it to Sussex University. After some wrangling by her cousin’s son, Nigel Nicholson, the property came under the ownership of The National Trust in 1981, who made it open to the public.
6. Dylan Thomas - Laugharne, South Wales
If you close your eyes and imagine the perfect writer’s hideaway, Dylan Thomas’ seaside shed would probably come in very close. This humble boat house would become the retreat where he would spend the last four years of his life. He’d first visited Laugharne at nineteen years old and fell in love with the place. He returned fifteen years later, now a famous poet and orator.
Dylan and his family never actually owned the boat house - the lease was bought for him a benefactor, Margaret Taylor. A minuscule dwelling, the boat house sits the Tall River meets the sea. While Dylan thought it was the perfect place to write, things weren’t ideal. The family were very poor, Dylan was a heavy drinker, and the boat house was infested with rats, as well as the perpetual grey drizzle which never lifted.
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Just a bit above the boat house was his writing shed, a converted garage. After his death his widow Caitlin was forced to sell the furniture inside to pay off debts. Since, however, it has been faithfully recreated as he had it. Here Dylan would work, usually from two until seven p.m., and the place he finally finished his magnum opus, Under Milk Wood.
The boat house and writing shed are open to visitors, with different opening times for the winter months. Laugharne itself is a charming town, and a pilgrimage to Thomas’ last home would certainly not be wasted.
7. Mark Twain - Hartford, Connecticut
Back across the pond, you can visit the home of another illustrious author. It was in this beautiful home that Mark Twain wrote both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Unlike the other homes on this list, this one was custom designed by the author and his wife. They moved into this grand abode in 1874 and it was where they raised their young family. A brick construction in the Gothic Revival style, this was their dream home and on which they spent lavishly. After after seventeen years they were forced to sell, and the home became a school for boys and later an apartment building. In 1929, the house was purchased by The Friends of Hartford, where for twenty-six years the bottom floor served as the “Mark Twain Branch” of the Hartford Public Library.
In 1964, the private tenants in the rest of the house finally left and the restoration work could begin. Over the years, the house would be restored to its former glory, piece by piece. As well as being open to the public as a museum, the house also hosts classes and writers’ workshops. With its huge size - 25 rooms - and beautiful decoration, you can see why the Clemens’ family loved this home so much.
Twain’s writing room was on the fourth floor of the house. In this room, you can see a beautiful large desk, facing windows overlooking was was then rolling fields and trees. However, he never wrote here. Easily distracted, Twain preferred to write a small unassuming desk facing the wall. In this room you can also see a row of cubby-holes on the wall. Here he would place the drafts of his different works. When he got bored of writing one, he would go over and select another to work on for a while.
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Open for guided tours every day of the week except Tuesdays, don’t miss the chance to visit the beloved home of one of America’s finest writers.
8. Emily Dickinson - Amherst, Massachusetts
While most of the authors spent considerable amounts of their time chained to their desks, no authors was quite so attached to her living quarters as Emily Dickinson. You can visit both her own home, The Homestead, as well as the home of her brother Austin, The Evergreens, who lived next door. Under the ownership of Amherst college for the last sixty years. After ownership of both properties passed to the college in the early eighties, they were able to full tell Emily Dickinson’s life story as it happened through the two properties.
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Emily was one of three children. Their father was a prominent lawyer in Amherst. “Homestead” was built by her grandfather, Samuel Dickinson. Financial troubles meant that Edward was forced to sell the property, but they were able to buy it back about fifteen years later.
Her house was built in the grand Federal style, originally painted red. While it’s undergone some changes over the years, most of them have been reversed to bring it as close as possible to what it looked like in Emily’s day.
For reasons not known, Dickinson became increasingly reclusive later in life. She preferred conversing with visitors through a closed door, and stayed within the grounds of the “Homestead”, gardening and visiting her brother’s home next door. The majority of her correspondence was destroyed after her death, in accordance with her wishes, and perhaps along with it the reasons for her reclusiveness. Upon visiting the house, you can see her writing desk as she had it - in front of an airy window with a oil lamp for light. The desk is remarkably small. She would write starting in the afternoon and continue late into the night. But she also wrote whenever and wherever she could, evidenced by the scraps of poetry found on envelopes and recipes.
10. Jane Austen -Chawton, Hampshire
While the town of Bath in England is synonymous with Austen’s books and is being kept very much alive in the Jane Austen Museum, it is not possible to visit the house where she spent her time in Bath. You can, however, venture deeper into the countryside to visit her home in Chawton.
Relatives of the Austens, the Knight family, had no heir of their own and adopted Jane’s brother Edward as their heir. This farmhouse made up part of their estate, and he gave it to his sisters and mother to live in. Jane lived here for eight years before her death.
In 1940 the Jane Austen Memorial Trust was founded. They purchased the property and opened it as a museum in 1949. Over the years, repairs have been made to return it to how it was in Austen’s time. They have a fine collection of objects owned by Jane, such as her jewellery, some textiles and furniture, including the table where she liked to write.
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It is here where she wrote all six of her novels. Similar to Emily Dickinson, the table is very small. Jane was very discreet about her writing and preferred it not to be known about outside of her family circle. The smallness of her workspace might have meant she could quickly put her papers away with minimal fuss.
The visiting hours change throughout the year, so make sure to check out the website before making a trip.
11. William Wordsworth - Grasmere, Cumbria
It is not possible to disconnect Wordsworth home from the Lake District countryside in which it lies. After all, these surroundings were the subject matter of many of his poems.
The small whitewashed cottage was once a public house. He came across the house whilst on a walking tour with his friend the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, at age 29. He fell in love with this humble cottage, declaring it “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. After some years of travel and upheaval, the siblings settled into life in this idyllic part of the countryside. William later married Mary Hutchinson and they had three of their five children there before they were forced to leave to find a larger house. They finally settled at Rydal Mount, which is also a museum now open to the public.
One of the upstairs rooms served as William’s study and writing place, with views over the meadows and lake. They had the good fortune to arrive at a time when a number of other poets and writers lived in close proximity, including Coleridge, Robert Southey and Thomas de Quincey. Dorothy also enjoyed writing there, publishing the Grasmere Journals, which detailed the household’s comings and goings.
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Thomas de Quincey rented Dove Cottage following their departure, staying for thirteen years. It continued to be rented out until 1890, when it was purchased by the Wordsworth Trust. It has remained open to the public ever since. It is largely unchanged since Wordsworth’s day, and the garden has been restored to how the Wordsworth family kept it.
Which writer's homes have you visited? Comment below!
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