Saturday, June 28, 2014

Walking Where Great Authors Walked

One of the many joys of travel is seeing the places where great authors that one has read and admired actually lived and worked. For example, I was moved to tears when, about eight years ago, I visited my beloved Jane Austen’s last home in Chawton, which is now a small museum preserving the house as she lived in it with her mother and sister during some of the happiest and most productive years of her life, until she became ill. To see her bedroom, the small table she wrote at, and other aspects of this home was something I won’t forget. Then I visited her burial place in Winchester Cathedral, which was also an extremely moving experience for me. A few days ago, during a trip through Finland, Norway, and Denmark, I walked on Henrik Ibsens Gate street in Oslo, and saw the Ibsen Museum, reconstructed from Ibsen’s last home, also in Oslo. It reminded me of Ibsen's austere, powerful plays, many of which I read years ago, but still remember. In particular, “A Doll’s House” resonated for me, as it has for so many women throughout the years, with its powerful message about the destructive effects of society’s constricting, inflexible roles and requirements for women throughout much of history. This great playwright with his profound understanding has influenced so many readers and theater-goers, once again illustrating the power of literature. So seeing the places where he lived and worked was a moving and meaningful experience for me. Turning to another author-related experience on the same trip, regarding a very different but also important writer: When I was in Copenhagen, I walked along Hans Christian Andersen Street, and during a canal tour there, saw three of the buildings where he lived. Whenever I have experiences such as these, seeing up close places where a great writer lived or worked or is memorialized, I feel, just for a moment, a spark of connection with that author and her or his era and work. Those moments, those sparks, feel like gifts, for which I am very grateful.

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