From a very young age, I was introduced to the importance of literature. I can still recite the list of picnic items from Mickey Mouse’s Picnic and sing the good morning song in We Like Kindergarten. My mom introduced me to my childhood idol: Anne of Green Gables, and it is she who convinced me to pursue a career as a writer and English teacher.
As I grew up, my tastes and belief in my own intelligence led me to pick out books a bit beyond my level. We had a copy of Great Expectations, the illustrated classics abridged version, which led me to read the work itself in seventh grade. My teacher at the time then gave me a high school student’s before college list, using it to discover Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and subsequently all of her works over the next three years.
This passion for literature has stayed with me unwaveringly. I used Gilmore Girls to find out what other like-minded fictional characters were reading (344 books in total). It is the most important reason why I chose London for my study abroad experience; I see it as the epicenter of culture, literature, and arts in the world. When I told people I was coming to London, their follow up question was usually “why did you pick there?” I typically responded about literature: where else could I see a show at the Globe or visit Stratford-upon-Avon? Where could I visit two different Jane Austen museums in the span of one day, or travel the heights that her characters do in Pride and Prejudice?
In the past weekend with my parents in tow, I visited many literature-significant places that I still can’t believe I am able to go to.
Last Thursday, I took another impromptu day trip to Chawton, England – the home village of Jane Austen for the last years of her life. With the help of two “In the Steps of Jane Austen” maps, I was able to see exactly where Jane, her sister Cassandra, and her mother walked, visited, and wrote. I started at Jane’s home. Not only did I see her kitchen, bedroom, and gardens, but her writing table. Interestingly, after her death the table was given to an elderly servant to use in her day-to-day work – Jane’s family did not anticipate she would explode into the worldwide literary icon that she is today.
After the house, I took a 4 mile walk through the countryside that Jane would have taken to visit neighbors at manor houses around the neighborhood. A lifelong dream of mine was to walk over the stiles that dot the English landscape, especially after watching so many Jane Austen adaptions. I also met some very wary sheep (at a distance) on my short trek.
The next day, with my parents back from Scotland, we spent the morning at Westminster Abbey, home of the final resting places of incredible authors and poets. I saw the memorials (whether or not it marked the actual grave) of Jane Austen and Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Chaucer, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Shakespeare, and CS Lewis. In the evening we saw a play by the very famous Agatha Christie: The Mousetrap. I can honestly say that at intermission, none of us guessed the murderer.
Saturday, we took a short train ride up to Oxford – home to one of the most famous universities in the world, but, more importantly, home to a few movie locations in the Harry Potter series. We got to see the Bodleian Library, Christ Church Cathedral, and St. Mary the Virgin Church. We also spent time in a pub where JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis used to sit around with other literary, philosophical, and religious friends. Makes me wonder which of my favorite coffee shops people will flock to once my friends and I become famous!
In the evening we kept in character and visited another pub for dinner: The Cheshire Cheese. This pub was the regular of McConnaha family favorite author Charles Dickens. Without knowing it at first, I sat in his favorite seat! I hope I took in some of the genius by osmosis.
And finally, Sunday, one of our stops was to the British Library’s Treasures Collection. Inside, not only was there an original Magna Carta, a fragment of John’s Gospel from the 3rd century, and a handwritten notebook holding Handel’s Messiah, but also Jane Austen’s travel writing table and the original manuscript of Persuasion.
It was a perfect weekend for someone who loves books as much as I do. I can’t wait to see what other famous haunts I can discover while I’m here!