Literary Trips: Following the Footsteps of Fame

edited by Victoria Brooks

Published by Sandhill Books

400 pages, 2000


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Traveling Literally

Reviewed by Andrea MacPherson

 

A desert in Jordan. The chatter of downtown New York City. The serene nature of the Yorkshire Moors. These are just some examples of the exotic locales Literary Trips takes you in this lyrical travel narrative.

Edited by Victoria Brooks, Literary Trips consists of 23 separate chapters, detailing experiences in the Middle East, North America, the UK, Europe and the Caribbean. As suggested in its title, Literary Trips is concerned with following literary greats to their homelands, or the place where they encountered inspiration. Each chapter recounts not only the current author's experiences and observations in the specific city, but also information about the previous author's life. We learn about DH Lawrence's tempestuous relationship with a couple in New Mexico; Hemingway's affair with a young blonde in Cuba and the hasty engagement of Agatha Christie in Torquay. In this manner, Literary Trips truly becomes a travel experience, feeling at once intimate and informative. It is evocative and engaging. Each chapter is written with fluidity and grace, lending the feeling of true literature within the confines of a travel journal.

A serene silence pervades the Hampshire afternoon, punctuated only by soft gusts of wind through chestnut trees and the scuffle of feet against a narrow, dusty lane. Ahead, nestled behind dark greenery, the worn stone of a Norman church peers out expectantly.

I am walking the road to Steventon, a road left unblemished by time, a road well-known by Jane Austen, who lived in this area for 25 years. The echo of her here, haunting and insistent, transforms me. Eagerly I scan the surrounding fields for her tall, slim form striding into the distance. I am disappointed not to see her, so entrenched am I in her world.

And while Literary Trips manages to be quite poetic, it is also very informative. At the close of each section is a listing of accommodations, sights to see and literary haunts. The reader can imagine the book as a companion through these towns, the pages growing more dog-eared as the miles and days pass.

Southern England

Literary Sleeps:

Burgh Island Hotel: The tides make it necessary for guests to arrive via sea tractor, so call ahead. Bigbury-on-Sea, South Devon. Tel.: (44-1548) 810514. Expensive.

Royal Hotel: In the heart of Winchester, this establishment is down a peaceful street and has a lovely garden. St. Peter Street, Winchester, Hampshire. Tel.: (44-1962) 840840. Moderate.

St. Michael's Hotel: Centrally located in Lyme Regis, this pleasant hotel features nice views and rooms with baths. Pound Street, Lyme Regis, Dorset. Tel.: (44-1297) 442503. Inexpensive.

Literary Sites:

Jane Austen House: Austen lived here from 1809 until her death in 1817 (though she actually died in Winchester). The museum has a good deal of Austen memorabilia on display. Admission fee. Open daily March through December from 11:00 am to 4:30 p.m.; weekends the rest of the year. Call to verify times. Chawton, Alton, Hampshire. Tel.: (44-1420) 83262.

I was pleased to see a chapter on my hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, detailing many of its sites, such as Stanley Park's Lost Lagoon, the Sylvia Hotel at English Bay and the Museum of Anthropology. Having just returned from Ireland, I was also especially interested in the corresponding chapter. I read it carefully, trying to determine if I agreed with Tanya Storr on the merits of this beautiful country. I was not disappointed. Literary Trips included many of the places I had visited myself: the Dublin Writer's Museum, the National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Square and Trinity College. The author brought Dublin to life so vividly that I could smell the inside of tiny pubs in the Temple Bar District and see the river Liffey again.

This book does something that few travel books manage to accomplish: it informs its readers about a variety of amazing, literary cities and at the same time allows its readers to become involved with lovely, lyrical writing.

Literary Trips is a book I will read again; not only to prepare me for future journeys, but to lose myself in the richness of cities and countries I might otherwise never visit. As such, Literary Trips succeeds in making its reader yearn for his or her own literary journey. | January 2001

 

Andrea MacPherson is a Vancouver-based writer who recently completed her first novel. Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, The Glow Within, Chameleon and Descant. She is the poetry editor for Prism International.