I shall be going to Bath soon, and no doubt while I’m there, I shall visit all the places associated with Jane Austen. I love literary pilgrimages.
But why do it? Why are people fascinated by the places and homes and items associated with writers and artists? Surely their words are what’s important.
When I went to Haworth, I went to the Bronte Parsonage, and stood there, looking at the room where Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and Tenant of Wildfell Hall were written. I saw the Bronte’s writing desks, and the table they walked round and round whilst talking over their stories. To my surprise, I found myself weeping. I had expected to be interested. I hadn’t expected to be moved.
I’ve seen the room Dickens wrote in, I’ve stood outside Virginia Woolf’s house. Why would I do that?
It makes them more human, I think, and it gives their words an added layer. These aren’t just words I’ve read on a page anymore. I’ve seen where their author stood and thought and framed those words. I’ve seen where those words that mean so much to me were first created. I’ve seen what the author saw, when she looked up and out the window and imagined her world.
I think that visiting these places, and seeing these objects give a new added depth to the books. You can’t really know what Wuthering Heights is like until you’ve stood on the moors and felt the wind blow around you. When you see the Pump Rooms in Bath, you can see how Anne Elliot felt trapped by the gentility of this narrow world (and try the waters, when you go there. You really should). What an author sees and feels and does in their everyday life feeds into their writing, and these literary pilgrimages open up a whole new window onto their imaginary worlds.