The UK’s literary heritage is one of its greatest attractions. I love walking in and around London or wherever I am, imagining the way it might have looked to the writer, what inspiration was derived. . . I get really geekified and happy inside.
We’ve done the romantic day out to Stratford-upon-Avon, had a beer in the pub where Shakespeare met his mates. It was, to be perfectly honest, way too tourist-trappish for my liking. I like my history a little less polished, a little more DaVinci Code-esque.
I’ve driven through Purfleet, in Essex, on my way to the RSPB’s Rainham Marshes (excellent day out with the girls), stopping to look around and reminding myself of those chapters of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in which the Count visits London, sheltering in the earth there by day. And whenever I see ‘Gravesend’ on a map or road sign, I can’t help but think of the first chapter of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
One of my favourite outings was with my then-boyfriend, now-husband on a quest/trek for the old Wollstonecraft – Shelley family graves in St. Pancras Old Church yard. I’m a monstrous Mary Shelley fan, and I wished to visit the place of her inspiration. I had read that she visited her mother’s grave often, just to talk. Our search wasn’t easy. We sneaked our way through a few construction barriers as the new station was under construction and no one we asked had ever heard of it. But we found it (sort of. . . the bodies had been moved to Bournemouth and the entire cemetary emptied of its souls to build the new train links). Anyhow, photo snapped and experience accomplished.
I’ve walked the streets of Bath, thinking a little of Austen, but more of my 7 1/2 month protruding belly and how nice it would feel when I finally made it out of the sweltering July heat and into the mineral spa for a nice swim. But I could make the connection between the fine city with its beautiful architecture and Austen’s accounts of balls and beaus.
But then some encounters just leave you with the taste of grey in your mouth. Yesterday, we took the train into London for our little one’s hospital appointment. Something in the Metro caught my eye. A word about Oliver Twist. OOH. BUT, the writers of this illustrious rag wished to inform that the site of the workhouse upon which Dickens based Oliver Twist was now a mega mansion which has sold for millions. And I thought. . . How sad. That building, inside of which horrible things happened, but where beauty emerged–who doesn’t love the victory of ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’–is gone. And I thought about how stupidly ordinary this mega mansion would be despite the posh fixings and super-luxurious rooms against the history of one of the greatest novels .. . EVER.
Sigh. I am an unabashed antagonist of progress sometimes. Especially about things like this. And as yesterday was World Book day, I thought about how sad it was that this paper (and the Daily Mail) chose to report a story about a GREAT book as this kind of money-focused real estate “scoop” rather than find a story that could just celebrate a book.
And really this means a third layer of sadness: that this is what WE want to read and know and experience. Say it ain’t so.