What makes a trip a literary pilgrimage?
Somebody mentioned literary pilgrimages on their blog a few weeks ago which got me thinking about all the literary trips I’ve been on. Listing them in my head I was able to come up with quite a few. But once I starting thinking about what makes a trip a pilgrimage, I had to wonder if I should count all of my book related trips as literary pilgrimages.
So some ground rules seemed in order. We must agree that a pilgrimage is different from a trip. A true pilgrimage is taken for spiritual reasons. It’s a significant journey, often one involving hardship of some form. The trip to Makkah is one most Muslims can only once in their lifetime. The journey to Canterbury featured in Chaucer’s tales was taken only once a year and involved several days of travel for most pilgrims.
So we’re not talking about an afternoon at the bookstore even if you have to drive three towns over to get to yours.
I am defining a literary pilgrimage as a book related trip that involves staying away from home at least one night. It’s also a trip taken specifically for book related reasons.
For example: several years ago, C.J. and I traveled to Portland, Oregon to visit Powell’s Bookstore. We saw several other sites while in Portland and visited friends on the drive there, of course, but the reason for the trip was to visit Powell’s. We had a great time. I bought 12 books. This trip counts as a full pilgrimage.
We have also taken several day trips to Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, California. I highly recommend Jack London State Park. It’s the ranch Jack London lived on for many years where you’ll find the ruins of The Wolf House, the dream home London built with the money he earned from The Call of the Wild. Since this is not an overnight trip for us, it only counts as a partial pilgrimage.
The same goes for Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood home of Mark Twain which I’ve visited several times since my family is from the St. Louis area which is only a few hours away from Hannibal. Hannibal is also lots of fun, but not a pilgrimage if you live nearby or if you really went to Missouri to visit relatives, which I did.
I am counting my trip to New Haven, Connecticut where I spent a summer at Yale studying Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities program as a full literary pilgrimage. I traveled across the country and spent six weeks in New Haven living in a dorm room. Hardships abounded. I went to study Canterbury Tales and also because the program promised me access to the Yale library which is a marvel. I spent even more time wondering the stacks and reading the obscure wonders I found there than I did reading Chaucer.
While at Yale I traveled to Hartford to see Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s homes and to Lenox, Massachusetts, to visit The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home. Neither of these count has full literary pilgrimages since I did not stay overnight at either location.
While visiting England, C.J. and I took two trips outside of London, one to Canterbury and one to York. I’m counting both as full literary pilgrimages because we stayed overnight in both and went to each for mostly literary reasons.
Canterbury because of Chaucer and because we found a bed and breakfast in a building that would have been the home of David Copperfield had he been a real person instead of a character in a book and because from Canterbury we could take a day trip to Rochester which has a Dickens Center. Rochester, England turned out to be a charming town, though the Dickens Center is basically a tourist trap. Canterbury is wonderful, especially if you stay overnight since the tourists are all there on day trips from London. After four in the afternoon, you have the entire Medieval town to yourself.
York itself was not a literary destination, but from York we could take a day trip to Haworth where we visited the Bronte Parsonage. This trip was taken via train and bus and took up the entire day but was completely worth it. The Bronte Parsonage is probably the best literary pilgrimage site I’ve ever been to. C.J., who had never read the Brontes at the time, loved it as well. While York is well worth a trip on its own, we only went there because there was no way I was flying all the way to England and not seeing the Bronte Parsonage. I’m a lifelong Bronte fanboy.
We’ve been to many, many other literary sites–Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in Paris, the home of Georges Sand also in Paris, the home of Anne Frank in Amsterdam, Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey in London, Oscar Wilde’s grave in Paris, The Strand Bookstore in New York City, City Light’s Books in San Francisco, the Winnie-the-Pooh display at the Public Library in New York City . But none of these trips we taken solely, or primarily for literary reasons and many of them were not overnight trips.
Which leaves me with four literary pilgrimages, Powell’s Bookstore in Portland; Yale University; Canterbury, England and Haworth Parsonage in England.
What literary pilgrimages have you taken?