The literary black book

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History has witnessed the birth of many a literary genius who have made their mark in our lives in one way or the other. These creative individuals, like Mark Twain and Agatha Christie, have weaved tales that have touched our hearts if not our lives.

But, have you ever wondered how your favourite author lived? What was his or her view out of the bedroom window, or what kind of books their library shelves held? The homes of late authors are now open to the public, offering literature lovers a glimpse into how they lived. Here are some of the world’s best-loved authors and their abodes.

The Mark Twain House and Museum

351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut, USA

Hours: 9.30am to 5.30pm (Monday-Saturday); noon to 5.30pm (Sundays)

Tickets: US$14 (ages 65 and older), US$16 (17-64), US$6 (ages 6-16)

Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the pen name of Mark Twain, lived in this Hartford home with his wife, Olivia, or “Livy”, and their three daughters. The house boasts a North Eastern charm and warmth in a Victorian style, with plenty of wood finishing throughout. Clemens, who lived there with his family between 1874 and 1891, had his wife to thank for the design. Livy was extremely particular about the family house, and even drew sketches of what she wanted. Her husband was so pleased with the end result that he noted, “It is a home — and the word never had so much meaning before”.

The house indeed seems the perfect place for raising a family with young children, as well as entertaining guests. As you enter the house, you’ll notice the beautiful ornamental detailing in the wood panelling and the staircase. The drawing room, which was used for formal entertaining, has walls and ceiling stencilled with silver East Indian motifs over salmon pink, as well as tufted furniture and chandelier which the family actually owned.

Other rooms in the house include the nursery, the master bedroom, the school room and the billiard room. The conservatory is especially amazing, with lush green plants and a fountain, nicknamed “The Jungle” by the couple’s children.

The Hemingway Home

907 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida, USA

Hours: 9am-5pm daily

Tour rates: US$13 (adults), US$6 (children)

Spanish author of revered tales like the Old Man and the Sea moved into this Florida estate in 1931 with his second wife, Pauline. Originally built in 1851, it is located on the Key furthest from mainland Florida, giving it a superb view and weather, all ideal elements to help spur the author’s creativity. After Hemingway moved to Cuba in 1940, Pauline lived here with their two sons, Patrick and Gregory, until her passing in 1951, when the children agreed to sell the estate.

Walking through the house, you’ll notice the European influence, from the furniture to the detailing of the window frames. The house still contains many of the furnishings which Mrs Hemingway purchased while the couple resided in Paris and brought with them when they moved in here, like the beautiful sparkling chandeliers, which she replaced the ceiling fans with. There are other European furnishings which the couple brought with them, like a gorgeous dark 17th century Spanish chest, made from Circassian walnut wood. Don’t be surprised to find six-toed cats (polydactyls) all over the estate. These felines are descendants of Hemingway’s beloved cats and following his practice, are still named after famous people.

Besides the author’s fans, the estate is also frequented by couples who have their wedding here. With its exotic setting dotted with colourful flowers, it is easy to see why it has become the preferred wedding venue for many.

Agatha Christie’s summer house

Greenway Road, Galmpton, near Brixham, Devon, UK

For 2013 opening times, see

Ticket prices: £9.75 (adults), £5.40 (children), £24.20 (family), £16.40 (single adult family)

Known and loved for her tales of mystery, the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and her family bought this Georgian mansion called Greenway in 1938. Located at the southern tip of the UK, the 33-acre property was renovated by an architect, who dutifully adhered to Christie’s specifications. The author was quoted to have told the architect, “I want a big bath and I need a ledge because I like to eat apples”.

Today, the lovely English house is under the care of UK’s National Trust. Decked in quintessential Victorian elements, the house has a relaxed feel and contains many of the family’s heirlooms, like silver, botanical china and even books. The exterior of the house is surrounded by woodland gardens, a restored vinery and rare plantings.

You can also visit the boathouse, located on the banks of the nearby River Dart, which was featured in Christie’s story Dead Man’s Folly as the scene of a crime. As you stroll the grounds of this charming estate, you’ll see why Christie said in her autobiography that it is “a house that my mother had always said, and I had thought also, was the most perfect of the various properties on the Dart”.

The Steinbeck House & Restaurant

132 Central Avenue, Salinas, California, USA

Sunday Summer Tours: Noon, 1pm and 2pm

Entry by donation: US$10 (adults), US$20 (family), US$5 (students, retired military and senior citizens)

Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, whose marvellous works include Of Mice & Men and East of Eden was born and brought up in this California house. But today, the home is run by the Queen Anne style Victorian restaurant. You can dine in the arms of literature history, and if you are visiting on a Sunday, you can take the tour of the house.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6QW, UK

For opening times, see

Rates: £14 (adults), £9 (child), £13 (concession), £36.50 (family)

For the past 250 years, William Shakespeare’s humble birthplace has been attracting droves of visitors, including Charles Dickens and John Keats. Not only was the iconic writer born here in 1564, he also grew up and spent the first five years of his marriage to Anne Hathaway on this 16th century English estate now owned and operated by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The dwelling itself appears simple and straightforward, but for that time and age, it would have been quite substantial. It belonged to William’s father, John, who was a glovemaker and wood dealer who divided his house to use it to carry out his business affairs.

The area of Stratford-upon-Avon is also known as Shakespeare Country, for the other Shakespeare related buildings in the area. One must-visit is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, located on Shottery Road, two miles from here and can be reached on foot.

The Dostoevsky Apartment Museum

Ul. Dostoevskogo, 2 (Metro Dostoevskaya), Moscow, Russia

Hours: 11am to 6pm (Thursday-Sunday); 2pm to 7pm (Wednesday-Friday)

This was the world’s first museum dedicated to prolific Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was opened on Nov 11, 1928, and remained the only such museum until the late 1970s. The apartment is actually located in one of the wings of the former Mariinsky hospital, which is where Dostoevsky’s father worked as a doctor and it was here where he spent some 15 years of his early years.

The hospital, which was for the poor, was located in one of Moscow’s worst neighbourhoods, with a cemetery for criminals and a lunatic asylum some of the nearby locations. All of this impacted the writer, who developed an interest in and compassion for the poor and the oppressed, something that was apparent in his works.

After Dostoevsky and his brother left for college in St Petersburg, the family never returned to the apartment. But it remained the same since the time the family resided here, and hence, is quite authentic.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on Jan 8, 2013.

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