In my last post, I showed you the Mark Twain house. As I mentioned, the Harriet Beecher Stowe house is across the lawn.

Click on the image to make it larger

The Beecher Stowe house, with gingerbread trim, is a modest size compared to Samuel Clemen's house:

The home where Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Harriet Beecher (Stowe) received her early education in the town of her birth, Litchfield, CT. Her father, Lyman, worked as a teacher of Religion at Sarah Pierce's Litchfield Female Academy and Harriet attended the school. She was encouraged to develop critical thinking skills by partaking in vigorous intellectual debates... often during family dinner time!

When she was thirteen, she began attending the Hartford Female Seminary, in Hartford, CT. Her sister, Catherine, founded the girl's school in Hartford. As Harriet become aware of the issue of slavery, she was determined to bring the issue into the nation's consciousness. She and her brother Henry often spoke publicly against slavery and its moral degradation. Her brother became well known for his sermons (against slavery), which were delivered at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, NY.

Harriet was an older woman by the time she moved into the house at Nook Farm, in Hartford. She lived there with her husband and their twin daughters, Eliza and Harriet.

She had seven children, losing at least one to childhood illness. She recalled having used her sorrow (after the death of a son to cholera) as a way to understand what it may have been like when enslaved mothers had to give up their children, which is a theme in Uncle Tom's Cabin. As she wrote, Harriet had her daughters proofread her manuscript. When it was finally ready to send to her publisher, she needed three more copies to be made. Her daughters hand-wrote the three additional copies!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's house is described by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center as follows:

Harriet Beecher Stowe's home (1871) illustrates the lasting popularity of the gothic-revival cottage and the influences of architects Andrew Jackson Downing and Calvert Vaux... The house combines architectural details like the steep hip-roof and graceful exterior trim with the balanced proportion of bay windows and porches on each side. Boasting an interior of 4500 square feet, the façade was designed to make the house appear smaller than it actually is, resulting in a welcoming effect. While smaller than other homes in Stowe's Nook Farm neighborhood, Stowe's house nevertheless contains 14 rooms.

... OK. So I don't really label myself a Yankee, but I like the headline!

(Note: all sources will be identified at the end of this post)

One of the things that I like about visiting Connecticut is touring the homes of historic authors. I didn’t have a lot of hours to play, so I only visited places within a 45 minute drive of my Connecticut apartment. So, I visited the homes of Noah Webster, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

My first destination:

Before I write about Noah Webster, I want to tell you why “Qui Transtulit Sustinet” is on the sign. It is Connecticut’s State Motto and it can be translated as, "He Who Transplanted Still Sustains." (dr. delagar… correct me if I am wrong!!) I have read that the vines represent Connecticut Colony and that “He Who Transplanted” refers to God. The transplanted vines are the English people who came to the new land. So… He who transplanted them still watches over them.

You may recall, Noah Webster was the author of many books and spellers, but is most known for publishing the first American English dictionary. The 1828 edition had 70,000 defined words. In this dictionary, he updated (some would say Americanized) the spelling of many British English words, such as changing honour to honor. It was the fifth edition; the first edition had been published in 1806. He lived in New Haven during those years.

A page from the 1828 (first) edition is pictured below:

Note: When you look at the image, check out the word STURK, defined as a “young ox or heifer.” I have never seen that word. I wonder if it is still used, or if the word is obsolete. If you know that the word STURK is still used today, please write a comment. I am curious to know!

Below are some original spellers, authored by Noah Webster. People are most familiar with the McGuffy Readers, but Webster’s spellers came first! They fell out of favor when the McGuffy Readers gain popularity in the schools and among those schooled at home.

A speller was used to help to learn to read and spell. Noah Webster wrote the first three American-English spellers. The Blue Backed Speller was first published in 1783 as Part I of A Grammatical Institute of the English Language.

"…as a writer, he saw a national language as the way to unite the many states into a single culture.”

I presume that this was his writing desk (below.) I know that the trunk was the one he used to transport his belongings between the Colonies, England and France.

He is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, around the corner from where my husband was raised.

In the portrait of Noah Webster, below, I wonder about a few things:

Is that a real skull being used as a paperweight??

Check out the page of the book he is reading. Is that a black man in chains? What is he reading about?

Look out the window. There are slaves outside of his window doing some planting. Noah Webster wrote a book, Effects of Slavery on Morals and Industry, so I wonder what his position was on the issue of slavery. I guess that if I read his book, I might figure it out!

… I also wonder why would he keep books, papers and a musical instrument on the floor??

(Click on the image to make it larger)

I drove over to the Clemens and Beecher Stowe houses. Both houses share a common yard, but they are separate entities. The Clemens family (Samuel, his wife Olivia and their three young daughters, Suzy, Clara and Jean) and Harriet Beecher Stowe lived there at the same time. Samuel Clemens was middle aged and Harriet Beecher Stowe was elderly when they were neighbors. Harriet Beecher Stowe lived with her husband and adult twin daughters.

Their properties were part of an area known as “Nook Farm,” which was a community of artists, writers and activists.

Brothers-in-law John Hooker and Francis Gillette purchased 140 acres of pasture and woodland and founded the community. William Gillette, the actor who played Sherlock Holmes, grew up in the neighborhood. Many suffragettes lived in the “Nook Farm” neighborhood, which is mostly along Forest Street in Hartford. The Houghton-Hepburn family moved there around the time that the Clemens sold their home in 1903. Katharine Hepburn’s mother and father were very active in the women’s rights movement and in educating the public about the dangers of venereal disease. Her father was a urologist at Hartford Hospital and treated many of the prostitutes that lived in the local brothels.

As you drive down Forest Street, the houses are grand. Many of the homes were custom-built by nationally renowned architects. (If you decide to visit the area, keep in mind that the street is surrounded by a ghetto. It is no longer an exclusive neighborhood, although it is still beautiful!)

The Mark Twain house is an architectural masterpiece. The bricks are designed to look like stenciling.  This theme continues in the house. Louis Comfort Tiffany’s company designed and painted the elaborate stencils seen throughout the house, yet most prominent in the grand foyer. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but I will write to the curator and ask permission to use their official photos. With permission, I will add them to this post.

The roof is made of slate. Each individual slate was hand-carved and follows a diamond pattern, as seen below:

The detailed brickwork is awe-inspiring.

Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and his wife Olivia believed in bringing nature indoors. A conservatory was built off of the main sitting room, where the family would gather to play games and present plays. As you can see from the outside, the conservatory is full of lush greenery and some exotic plants and trees. The floor is made of multi-colored slate tiles. If you look closely at the image, you can see a statue through the windows. The garden is beautifully designed and the windows let light into an otherwise dark house:

The open porches face what used to be a beautiful ravine and a little river that lined the property (Park River.) Unfortunately, urban sprawl has devoured the once park-like view. The river has been re-routed and now it flows through a concrete pipe under the ground. The woods are gone; apartment buildings have taken their place. There are still enough woods to imagine how beautiful it must have once looked.

Sources:

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

Noah Webster House Museum

Mark Twain House and Museum

Earlier this year, I drove to Lenox, Massachusets to visit Edith Wharton's estate. Driving through the Berkshires is always a pleasure. I had never been to The Mount before and it was magnificent. It is just off of Route 7, on a little side street.

From the entrance, one can only see the stable and a small house.

Mount Stable

It is not until you walk down a wooded pathway for about a half mile that you see the Mount gradually appear.

Path leading up to The Mount

The path is very serene, but I wouldn't suggest taking a leisurely stroll at sunset. The mosquitos are carnivorous and you will be their prey! As I walked further up the path, I saw the Mount! I had envisioned something quite diferent from what I initially saw.

Back of the Mount

This is the actual front of the Mount, although most people think the garden side of the house is the front. As I walked through the whitewashed stone wall, I could see a garden in the distance. Inside the stone wall is a courtyard, which would have been where carraiges parked.  The house is a brick structure, painted white. Although the house was built on a grand scale, the front door is quite plain with straight lines.

Plain door

When I entered the house, I was fascinated with the spaces in which Edith Wharton lived and wrote. Her first book, The Decoration of Houses, which was co-written with Odgen Codman Jr., was about architectural design. The Mount was built 5 years after the book was published. One can imagine, quite correctly, that the Mount is a masterpiece of design.

Edith Wharton collected the finest tapestries from around the world, to adorn the walls. One example is in the parlor:

Mount parlor

One of my favorite rooms at the Mount is the parlor, where the tapestry above is located. Edith Wharton did some of her writing in this room, and I imagine she entertained guests here, also.

Mount Parlor 2

The rooms are adjoined by a hallway (on each floor) called a "gallery" which feature sculptures on pedestals. Artwork also adorns the walls. Here is a photo of one of the sculptures on a pedestal in the first floor gallery.

Gallery Foyer at the Mount

This house is grand and opulent, so it surprised me to see that Edith's bathroom is quite small and plain. I'm sure that at some point there was a vanity in between the sconces. The view out the window overlooks the landscaped gardens.

Edith's bathroom

The above picture was taken at night.

Below is a picture taken the next day. You can see the landscape outside the window.

Edith's bathroom2

The gardens outside of the Mount are reminiscent of the ornamental gardens of 18th century England. Here are some photos of the landscape architecture and gardens at the Mount:

the_mount_garden

Wharton gardens

These photos are beautiful, but they can't capture the scents and sounds. I felt very peaceful when walking the grounds. Whatever may have been troubling me in the "real" world escaped my mind. While I was at the Mount, I felt removed from the world and all its problems. That is why I describe the grounds and the pathway leading up to the house as serene.

As the sun was setting, I took a walk down to the Wharton's pet cemetery. Yes, they cherished their dogs and buried them in graves, with gravestones.

Toto's grave at the Mount

Miza's grave at the Mount

Source: savethemount.org
Source: savethemount.org

Miza is in the center of the photo. Miza's grave is the one above this picture.

Modele's grave at the Mount

Edith Wharton's husband was also a dog lover. His favorite dog is said to have been "Jules." Below is a photo of Teddy and Jule on a horse.

Source: www.helpsavethemount.org
Source: www.helpsavethemount.org

... and here is a picture of Jules's grave

Jules grave at the Mount

I will end this post by showing a photo of the Mount, taken at night. It has quite a different feel at night. Quite spooky, actually!

Mount in the dark

The time that I spent at the Mount was very enjoyable. I learned a lot about Edith Wharton and her relationships with husband Teddy Wharton and their good friend, Henry James. I will add a separate post about her life and works.

This was a beautiful weekend and I kept every window open for about 10 hours. Most of the day was spent out on the front porch listening to birds singing while studying and reading. My indoor cats sat on the various window sills, pseudo-hunting. Poor kitties... they want to pounce on those robins and the damn screens are in the way!

The breeze moved the curtain onto the other side of the half-table, creating a silhouette.

When a brown recluse spider came down from its web and landed on my laptop, I decided to head indoors, but not before taking this picture of my garden table:

A bird has a nest inside this little birdhouse. I thought it would never happen, since it is not high off of the ground. I enjoy studying outside, but soon it will be too humid.

The semester is coming to an end and I am determined to be well prepared this time. I will have papers and projects completed this coming week so that I can devote the last remaining weeks studying for exams. Therefore, my kitchen table looks like this:

I am working on a paper (rather, the idea of a paper) for my 'Major Works of Drama' class and don't want to choose a typical topic. Therefore, I am researching 19th century women who wrote 'closet' dramas. Of course, I will discuss the patriarchal constraints under which they lived and wrote. The following books are excellent research materials:

During my evening bath, I always read in order to wind down and get into relaxation-mode. My current bathtub book is "To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf. A few years ago, I had to read it for a class. Now, I am revisiting the novel on my own terms! I am enjoying it much more the second time around.

Lately, I have been thinking that I don't do enough of anything beside studying and writing. My husband is stuck in another state working (indefinitely, it seems) and I am alone with the cats. To keep from getting (more) depressed, I have decided to do something I used to enjoy... cross-stitching.  I began a project when I was in New England, but I put it away and haven't worked on it in 8 months. It is a scene of Old Sturbridge Village .

This is what I've done thus far.

... and this is what it will look like when it is finished.

The house I stitched can be found in the center of this photo. Do you recognize it? My treetops aren't quite finished yet! I usually stitch on linen, but this project is on 18-  count Aida cloth. I think stitching on linen makes a smoother appearance.

It is getting late, so I bid you 'Goodnight!'

I was familiar with his name but until recently, had not read his work. He has written short stories, poems and at least one novel, but I am drawn to his lectures and essays. Born in 1899, Borges began writing in 1922. By the time he was twenty, he was familiar with the writings of philosophers Herbert Spencer, George Berkeley and David Hume. He also read the works of British and American writers (including Romantic poets), German Expressionist poets and the Greek Classics.

In 1914, the Borges family moved from Buenos Aires to Geneva, where Jorges L. Borges learned to speak and read French, Latin and German. Then, in 1921, the family moved back to Buenos Aires. Within two years, Borges was a prolific writer of Latin American poetry and short stories about Argentine life. Over the next ten years, Borges was one of the most recognized writers in Argentina’s literary history (Weinberger 527).  In 1932, Borges began to write non-fiction works, including essays, short biographies and book reviews. By 1936, he “was the best-known poet and essayist in Argentina” (529).

Jorges Luis Borges’s father had been chronically ill as an adult and he eventually went blind. The adult-onset blindness was hereditary and Borges suspected that he, too, would become blind as an adult. In 1938, his father died, leaving Borges as the patriarch of the family, which included his mother, his sister Norah, and Norah’s husband. Borges continued to write essays, but in 1941, he decided to devote most of his time to writing fiction. El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan was published that year, and an expanded version was published in 1944 (535). He also translated stories from English into Spanish during this period.

By 1948, in addition to being known as one of Argenitina’s most prolific writers, he also became known as a “symbol of resistance to Perón” (540). As a result, Perón imprisoned Borges’s sister and put his mother under house arrest. Borges had always wanted to become the Director of the National Library. When Perón was overthrown in 1955, Borges achieved his goal. He wrote about the position, stating, “There I was, the center, in a way, of nine hundred books in various languages, but I found that I could barely make out the title pages and the spines” (475). Soon afterwards, Borges’s gradual blindness became exacerbated. Before long, his physician “forbade him to read and write” (541).

As mentioned previously, his adult-onset blindness was expected. However, he did retain some color recognition. He stated in a lecture, “I can still make out certain colors; I can still see blue and green. And yellow, in particular, has remained faithful to me” (Borges 474). Borges also mentioned that he could not see black or red. I believe that Jorges Luis Borges wrote beautifully. In his lecture on blindness, he further explained,

“…my father and my grandmother, …both died blind, blind, laughing, and brave, as I hope to die. They inherited many things ─ blindness, for example ─ but one does not inherit courage. I know that they were brave” (474).

Instead of considering his blindness as a profound loss, he viewed it differently. He explained, “I have lost the visible world, but now I am going to recover another, the world of my distant ancestors… from Germany, Denmark and the Low Countries, who conquered England…” (477). He began to study the history of the English language, the study of Anglo-Saxon, and did not allow his blindness to intimidate him.  From September 1961 to February 1962, Borges became a visiting professor at University of Texas at Austin. While there, he attended a course on Old English/Anglo-Saxon literature, taught by Professor Rudolph Willard (Seale).

Borges believed that what happened to him (his blindness) was an instrument. He viewed his blindness as a gift. He explained:

“[blindness] gave me Anglo-Saxon, it gave me some Scandinavian, it gave me a knowledge of medieval literature I didn’t know, it gave me the writing of various books, good or bad, but which justified the moment in which they were written. Moreover, blindness has made me feel surrounded by the kindness of others” (483).

Borges ended the lecture by saying that his gradual blindness was not a complete misfortune. Instead, it was a new beginning for him, enabling him to learn things that he, otherwise, may not have pursued. I am encouraged by Jorges Luis Borges’s steadfast devotion to words, the history of language and his optimism in the face of adversity.

The following sources were referenced in this essay:

Borges, Jorge L. The Total Library: Non-Fiction 1922-1986. Ed. Eliot Weinberger.    2nd ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2001. 473-545. Print.

Seale, Avrel. "Was Borges in Your Class?" The Alcalde 90.2 (2001): 62. Print.

I am going to write something that you, my dear readers, may not need to know. I prefer baths... long, leisurely baths. (My bathtub is pictured below.) On those days that I don't have to hurry up and get out the door, I take my long, leisurely baths. When the water starts to cool, I let some of the water out of the tub and add more hot water. During these hour-long hot baths, I read.

My bathtub

My current bathtub read is titled,  "Vision in the Sky: New Haven's Early Years, 1638 - 1783," written by Myrna Kagan . It is actually a children's book, geared toward 10 years and up, and written for a reading audience of local New Haven school kids. It doesn't matter! It is a wonderful book and her writing style is such that I feel as if she is telling me a story ...while sitting on my couch! It is a cozy read.

Kagan refers to New Haven's streets and landmarks and writes about how they have evolved during the past 371 years. So, unless you are familiar with New Haven, you might miss part of the fascination!

I have been interested in New England Puritans for many years, but one mostly reads about the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony. So, it was intriguing to read about those who left Boston in the 1630's and migrated to New Haven to start "New Haven Colony." My hometown of Wallingford, CT was a part of New Haven Colony in those early years.

Here is an example of Kagan's relaxed writing style. In this paragraph, the author mentions my hometown:

"You might ask what, exactly, the English got in the way of land. They had bought, or practically had been given, the land that is now the towns of New Haven, East Haven, Branford, North Branford, North Haven, Wallingford, Cheshire, Hamden, Bethany, Woodbridge and Orange. Probably, you and many of your friends live in one of these towns. Wouldn't you agree that Mr. Eaton and his friends paid a very small sum for this great tract of land whose worth is so great today it cannot be calculated?" (Kagan 40-41).

Myrna Kagan can come to my house anytime to tell me stories of New England's early history. I think she is a magnificent writer! I will read more of her works.

Work Cited:

Kagan, Myrna. Vision in the Sky: New Haven's Early Years, 1638 - 1783. 2nd ed.   New Haven: Hillhouse Press, 2007. Print.

As mentioned in my "About Me" page, I am a college student, majoring in English with a Writing minor. Today, I registered for the Spring 2010 semester. I am nearing the end of a long journey. The Spring semester will be the last full time semester I will need to graduate. I will need to take one more Spanish class in the summer and then I will be done!! It's taken a long time, with many major life changes along the way. I began the degree in August 2004.

I have learned so many things while taking the courses required for the degree. Since a Baccalaureate degree is interdisciplinary, I have taken courses that I otherwise would not have chosen to take. One of the most unusual things that I learned in my Sociology class is that when you are at a restaurant, do not complain about your food and ask for it to be taken back to the kitchen to be fixed. There is a high probability that the food will be tampered with (read: spit on...) or worse!

When I heard that, I doubted whether it was true. But, studies (what studies... where can I read them) have been done to show that restaurant workers are often very unhappy in their job and will resent customer complaints. In their frustration, the food may be spit on if you send it back to the kitchen. I am still not convinced of this, as it seems to be a stereotype.... and I don't like to categorize groups of people based on an assumption. But, who knows? In any case, my husband and I make fresh meals and never go out to eat. OK... not entirely true... there is a Thai restaurant in our hometown that we go to once in a while. Their Fresh Spring Rolls (not fried) are delicious and filling.

Taking English literature and Writing classes has opened up a world of discovery for me. I have read Chaucer in Middle English and by the end of that semester, I was able to get through the  Canterbury Tales without too much difficulty. I became familiar with the vocabulary and actually enjoy the vocabulary quizzes. It was a fun challenge!

Through the years, I have discovered that I love nineteenth-century British literature. Jane Austen's fiction and Virginia Woolf's non-fiction essays are favorites. George Eliot's  Middlemarch was also one of my favorite stories, but I haven't read any of her other works. The plight of women prior to 1920 was brought to my attention based on the themes of the stories and essays that I have read. In particular, the Married Woman's Property Act of 1870 and how it affected women. I also became familiar with the Victorian servant class (and the classes within the servant class.)

I am merely skimming the surface in this blog post. My awareness and life perspective has changed immensely since beginning my English degree plan. In the writing classes that I have taken, I read the essays of E.B. White,  William Zinsser and Virginia Woolf. I admire their writing styles and hope to become as concise a writer as they were.