Vacationing in England last July, we were overjoyed to be joined by our pre-teen granddaughter. We set out to create a memorable yet educational adventure. London is, of course, the juggernaut tourist attraction. And, while we did spend several days hitting the iconic sites in the capital city, it was the country’s literary roots that we were keen for her to experience.
Our granddaughter loves to read, so we set course for the homes of England’s literary greats: William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and the Brontë sisters. Staying in manor house country hotels immersed us in the bucolic British cultural experience of old. The giant estates were, and in some cases remain, the anchors of village life. Driving across the country was an opportunity to see and experience more than merely visiting famous homes.
Our first stop was Greenway, the holiday home of the undisputed Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, on the Devon Coast. Christie, the creator of Hercule Poirot, introduced the Belgian detective in her 1920 debut novel, followed by the redoubtable Miss Jane Marple. The prolific Christie wrote at least 70 novels and many short story collections. Her best-selling book, And Then There Were None, has sold over 100 million copies, and her play The Mousetrap is the world’s longest-running play. Christie is outsold worldwide only by The Bible and William Shakespeare.
View from inside William Shakespeare's home
In preparation for D-Day, the U.S. Coast Guard requisitioned Christie's beautiful home in 1944. Thirteen murals painted by Lieutenant Marshall Lee remain in the house.
Next up was the Hampshire home of Jane Austen, who gave us one of the world’s greatest love stories: Pride and Prejudice and its romance of Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennett. Austen, the daughter of a vicar, lived in the parsonage of Chawton. In addition to Pride and Prejudice, Austen wrote six novels, including Sense and Sensibility and Emma. Today, 211 years after her first novel was published, her books remain popular and a favorite of filmmakers. Ironically, the author who wrote the definitive book on romance wasn’t allowed to marry the man she loved due to her then lack of wealth. In hindsight, I'm sure Thomas Lefroy's family would have second thoughts. However, that was the year 1795.
Agatha Christie's kitchen in Greenway
Our granddaughter was excited to tour the home of The Bard himself, William Shakespeare, in Stratford Upon Avon. Shakespeare, outsold only by The Bible, has had an enormous impact on the world. He invented more than 1,700 words we still use and many phrases. The author of at least 38 plays and 154 sonnets gave us words such as accommodation, generous, suspicious, excitement, farmhouse, retirement, bedroom, outbreak, published, zany, and even puppy-dog.
He began writing his first play, King Henry VI, in 1589. Shakespeare’s most famous works include Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, MacBeth, King Lear, and Midsomer Night’s Dream. His home is on the town’s main street, passed daily by residents, visitors, and tourists, many of whom may not fully understand its significance.
View from William Shakespeare's home
Like Jane Austen, the Brontë Sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—were also the daughters of vicars. They lived in the local parsonage of Haworth in Yorkshire. But their tales of love, relationships, and marriage are vastly different, addressing darker subjects, including abuse, neglect, and mental illness. However, there are also kindness and devotion that have made their famous works—Wuthering Heights (Emily), Jane Eyre (Charlotte), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne) much loved and enduring.
The Brontës are acknowledged as the world’s most famous literary family. To have three siblings pen famous works is remarkable. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were published in 1847, with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall the following year. Their father and brother were also published.
It was fascinating to watch our granddaughter’s reaction to the authors’ homes and stories of their lives and hear her questions. We were pleased that she noted that although the writers are among the most important in the world, they all lived modestly. Of course, Austen and the Brontës’ great fame and wealth came after their deaths. Although Christie’s home is large and the grounds beautiful, our granddaughter noted it “feels like someone