Following in the footsteps of literary heroines
Last summer, I fulfilled a long-held ambition to visit Prince Edward Island, setting for one of my favourite childhood books, Anne of Green Gables. I wrote about it here, and was then inspired to re-read the whole Anne series. (If you’re interested, you can read what I’ve said about the books on my children’s literature blog. My opinions have changed over the years.) This got me thinking about other places that I have been inspired to visit by books.
Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt is also a children’s book, although I read it as an adult, and the heroine, Dicey Tillerman, is every bit as strong a character as Anne. At the beginning of the story, she and her younger brothers and sister are waiting for their mother in a mall parking lot. She never comes back, and thirteen year old Dicey has to decide what to do. She has $10, a road map and the last known address of Aunt Cilla, the relative they were supposed to be driving to see. Scared to ask for help in case the family is separated, she takes them on a long trek in search of Cilla, which requires all her ingenuity. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next – and if you get hooked, there are several sequels. I can feel another re-reading project coming on myself.
So where did Dicey inspire me to go? Although the story opens in Connecticut, the family’s home is in Provincetown at the very tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The description of the sand dunes and the sea reeled me in, and for my very first visit to the US that was where I wanted to visit. I like to think I am somewhere near Dicey’s cabin on the dunes in these pictures – yes, that young woman in the pink top is me in Provincetown in 1992. I’m not sure I can quite believe that, although the other beach picture from our second visit in 1997 is much more recognisably “me”. How did that happen in just five years?
Another place I longed to see was Lyme Regis in Dorset. Jane Austen fans will remember that this is where Louisa Musgrove fell from the Cobb (harbour wall) in Persuasion. However, a stronger pull was that the Cobb is also where Sarah Woodruff stands staring out to sea in John Fowles’ brilliant and complex French Lieutenant’s Woman, a Victorian novel written from a twentieth century perspective. So a few years ago I too walked the Cobb (avoiding the fall) and the coast where Charles Smithson, Fowles’ hero, searches for fossils. I read the book again and, as with the Anne books, found my opinions had changed with the passage of time – not about its quality, I enjoyed it just as much, but about the ending. Fowles provides alternatives. When I was 21, the romantic ending seemed the most attractive but in later years I wondered whether the more independent life Sarah has forged in the second ending would not be better. Again, read it for yourself and decide!
Which places have other people visited because they read about them in novels?