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Exploring American Literature in Massachusetts

I like to read. I also like to write, so an appreciation of great works of literature is a given in my case.  If you’re like me and also want to know some of the back stories behind the great writers of the past, Massachusetts is one of the best places you can visit. I’ve compiled a list of great 19th century writers whose homes are open to the public.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is known to us as a poet and philosopher and considered a icon of American literature.  The essays he wrote such as Self-Reliance, The Over-Soul, Circles, The Poet and Experience are considered pivotal works in establishing American Literature.  He lived in Concord, Massachusetts, making it a mecca for American writer in the 19th century.  His home, The Ralph Waldo Emerson House, where he lived from 1835 until his death 1882, is a national landmark and available for tours by the National Park Service.

American poet Henry Wadworth Longfellow, most famous for his poems Paul Revere’s Ride and Evangeline, was one of the most influential poets of the 19th century. The lyrical style of his works was copied by a multitude of American and European poets.  His home in Cambridge, Massachusetts is just a short walk from Harvard where he worked as a professor (until 1854 when he devoted his life to his writing). The home is now administered my the National Park Service and is open to the public. If you visit Longfellow House, you aren’t just visiting the home of a poet, but George Washington’s headquarters during the siege of Boston in the 18th century.

Emerson and Hawthorne’s “The Old Manse” | Image courtesy: The Trustees of Reservations

Nathaniel Hawthorne is a writer you probably had to read in the 9th grade. You may not recognize his name, but you’ll likely remember the title of his most revered work, The Scarlet Letter.  Hawthorne’s works didn’t stop there; he published several other novels focusing on the morality (or lack thereof) in the Puritan community. The House of Seven Gables, published in 1851, focuses on a New England family in their ancestral home and is considered a Gothic romance in the same genre as Wuthering Heights by his contemporary, Emily Bronte. The House of the Seven Gables is a real place and belonged to his cousin Susanna Ingersoll, the descendant of the same old New England Family.  The house and its adjoining properties are available for tours in Salem. Yes, there is a connection with the famous witch trials, but that is for another post.

Louisa May Alcott’s works Little Women, Little Men and Jo’s Boys published between 1868-1886 are still staple of American literature and at least one of those books can be found on the bookshelf of most young girls in the United States even today.  The home, Orchard House, located in Concord, Massachusetts is not only open to the public but it is packed with educational experiences.  The mission of the house is to be a “living textbook by which economics, geography, history, literature, math and science come to life”.  I found a majority of the programming is directed at younger visitors, but I imagine if you don’t have a degree in 19th century literature or history the programs might be just what the lay person needs.

So, if you are interested in the people and places behind the words of the American literature movement, start planning your trip to Massachusetts.

Want to add more stops on your literary itinerary? Check out the American Writers Museum’s list of highlights in Massachusetts.

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About No Kids, Will Travel

In the eyes of their friends and family, Amanda and Zeke are a young jet setting couple without any real responsibility. In real life, the stress of work and raising a kitten push them to flee reality at every opportunity. The "lack of obligation" gives them the chance to explore the world.

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