This is a guest post from Jessica Minier Mabe. She is not only one of our readers but also the owner of Distant Mountain Trips which orchestrates intimate & unique tours across Europe. As a former English teacher one of her favorite tours is ‘Literary Britain’. Reading her post below it is clear she has a passion not only for quality, well thought out travel but also for diving behind the scenes of literary classics. Please be sure to read her bio below and check out her website, Distant Mountain Trips, for more information about her personal & passionately led tours.
I have read Pride and Prejudice at least a dozen times, and taught it to high school students. Back when I was still in high school myself, I bought a 1914 “travel” edition, complete with charming illustrations and a thin gold ribbon bookmark, which I carried with me around the world, like a one-book Kindle. Whenever I was bored, lonely, or lovelorn in a place far from home, out came my traveling “P&P” to comfort me with the familiar story of Lizzie and Mr. Darcy. Later I carried copies of Jane Eyre, or A Room with a View, Vanity Fair or Kim… whichever work of classic fiction I found most relevant, most familiar, and yet most fresh when I returned to it. These books were my traveling talismans, able to magically transport me to their worlds and therefore, somehow, back home.
When I created my first “literary” tour of Britain, I sought out the familiar haunts of my favorite authors. It was wonderful to discover how much I could learn about Jane Austen, for example, just from standing in the rooms where she once stood. The knowledgeable tour guides at each home taught me fascinating new trivia. The guides walk through these houses every day: this is their specialty, and often their passion. At Jane’s house we learned that machine-made laces quickly turned the status symbol of lace gowns into a mark of the nouveau riche. An admiring comment about a woman’s lacey dress in Pride and Prejudice morphs a few years later into the snide comments of a status-obsessed character in Emma, who cannot understand why Emma’s wedding has so few “lace veils,” unaware that this fashion has already passed her by. In all the times I read these familiar stories, I never realized that someone’s understanding of lace (or the lack of it) could tell me all about their position in society. It was amazing to catch this little extra jab, as if Jane were elbowing me in the ribs across 200 years and whispering: “Get it? That snob doesn’t even know that lace veils are sooo last year!”
Visiting Charlotte Bronte’s house for the first time, I better understood her novel’s melancholy, yet sweeping tone. The Bronte parsonage is situated above a small cemetery at the top of a steep hill in Haworth. The country is wilder than Austen’s gentle farmland, and feels far more remote. As I walked among the mossy headstones in the graveyard, I was struck by the idea that Charlotte must have stood there on quiet afternoons as well, reading the same names, wondering as I did about the stories of those buried there. Did they inspire one of her fantastical miniature books? In the dining room of the parsonage, I walked around the table slowly. Charlotte and her family often walked there after dinner, round and round in pairs with their arms linked, talking and laughing. After the deaths of her sisters in close succession, her friend Mrs. Gaskell remembered sitting in the room below, listening as Charlotte’s lonely footsteps circled the table for hours. It meant something to walk around that table – to feel, if only for a moment, the isolation of her pitiful journey.
The sense of a book being both familiar and surprising has always been at the heart of my love for great literature. The best books provide continuous rediscoveries as we, their loving readers, grow to understand new facets of the characters and situations that come to reflect our own lives. When I was young, I wanted to be the characters in the stories. I wanted to be romanced by the arrogant Mr. Darcy, and adored by him once he’d reformed. I wanted to feel the same bitter longing that Jane has for Mr. Rochester, and then to embrace him with the same knowing fondness. I ached to love the way they did, but was convinced that too great a distance separated us. How could a modern girl be swept away on passions as grand as those conceived in Jane’s and Charlotte’s imaginations? Now that I am older, I can see so many places where our lives converged. I can place next to their adventures the lessons learned from my own experiences, and that brings a new richness to stories I thought I already knew.
I love running trips to Literary Britain, taking small groups of fans on tours of their favorite authors’ haunts, and to the places where great literature still lives and breathes. Each time I step into the houses of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bront?, or William Wordsworth, I find myself even more connected to the works I love, and to the very real people who wrote them. It is truly the best form of time travel. This summer, I’ll be bundling up my travel P&P, and heading out again to rediscover that same world in a whole new light.
Jessica Minier Mabe is a former English teacher and owner of Distant Mountain Trips. This year’s trips to “Literary Britain” run in both June and October. Visit Distant Mountain Trips and sign up to find your own connection to your favorite authors’ lives.
*All photos in this post provided by Jessica Minier Mabe.
*Get the first glimpse of our new travel photos & posts! Subscribe by email and get new travel articles delivered straight to your inbox:
*Please remember all photos on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and property of Beers and Beans Travel Website, Nariko’ s Nest Weddings & Bethany Salvon. Please do not use them without my permission. If you do want to use one of them please contact me first because I do love to share and I would be flattered. Thanks!
MORE UNIQUE TRAVEL STORIES FROM AROUND THE WEB: