As you probably know, I’m away from Athens for a month doing a research fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. I’m having a lot of fun with my research, getting to know the other fellows and the staff of the library, and staying in this big house across the street where some of the fellows live. Here’s a link to some pictures of the library, especially the pretty amazing reading room. Anyway, at the end of this month, I should have the raw material for a pretty good chapter for my book in progress. But enough about work!

One of the things I have been most looking forward to about this month in New England was being able to travel around the area seeing the literary sites that I’d read lots about but had never had the opportunity to see before. This past weekend I began that process on Saturday with a drive to Amherst, the college town where Emily Dickinson spent most of her life. It’s just a little over an hour away from Worcester. I began the pilgrimage at West Cemetery, where she is buried. In the picture of the grave here, you’ll see that Dickinson didn’t die, she was only “called back.” (Just click on the picture to enlarge it.) The rest of her family, buried in the same plot, merely “died.”

After, paying my respects, I drove around the block to the site of her house (where she was born and where she died–or got called back) and the house next door where her brother Austin and his family lived. It was wonderful to get some sense of Dickinson’s daily life (everything from the view from her window to the kind of plants in her garden). I especially liked the image the tour guide kept giving us of this little red-headed woman, walking her huge dog Carlo, a Newfoundland, around Amherst. It was a nice departure from the silly image of the house-bound recluse wearing a white dress that’s so often presented to students.

The Dickinson family home is next to Evergreen, the home of Austin and Susan Dickinson, which was also included on the tour. That’s one crazy house, that has gone relatively unchanged since the nineteenth century (it literally seems to be crumbling to pieces and it’s kind of scary to stand in). After the tour of these houses, I had lunch in Amherst and browsed a few bookstores, before driving over to Northampton, a neighboring town which I had been told had some great used bookstores. The home of Smith College, it was a charming place, and the bookstores were very good. However, the most notable thing about that town –aside from the wonderful Spring weather that day–was the huge lesbian population (I’m not sure if they all lived there or if it’s a lesbian tourist destination, but it definitely seemed the place to be if you are a lesbian couple with children).

On Sunday, I made an unexpected literary excursion. At the Dickinson house, the tour guide reminded me that the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses were in Hartford, CT, which is also just about an hour away from Worcester. I had forgotten that Twain and Stowe were literally next-door neighbors, so their houses are essentially part of one big compound.

Most of it, however, belongs to the Twain house, which has an accompanying museum/tourist complex (the Twain industry is obviously thriving); the Stowe site seemed meager in comparison. It was kind of depressing to realize that most of the people on my tour of the Twain house didn’t even seem to have heard of Stowe and only three of us wandered over to the Stowe house afterwards for her tour.

Both tours were interesting though. Twain’s house is very impressive inside. Lots of grant money (from “Save America’s Treasures”–thanks, Hillary!) has obviously flowed into that place. I hope the more modest Stowe site can get some help too. Anyway, it was interesting to imagine the Clemens and the Stowe families socializing in the space between their two houses.

Anyway, in case you’ve been wondering, that’s some of what I’ve been up to here. You’ll find better pictures of all of these houses, including interiors (which I wasn’t allowed to take on the tours), on the websites. I just posted my own pictures here to prove to Jeremy that I’d been to these places. Next weekend, Jeremy will be here and we’ll be traveling to Newport, RI, where we’ll be exploring the mansions of Newport. I’ll let Jeremy take the pictures for that trip and relate the experience. That’s it from me for now. This blogging thing is tiring.