English Memories

I received an email recently from a novelist who is writing about Woolson and returning soon to Italy to visit the sites associated with her. It’s exactly three years ago that I was on my trip to England and Italy to follow in Woolson’s footsteps. So I found myself looking through my old pictures and thought I would share some of them as a way of revisiting the places I fell in love with. I’ll try to follow my trip as closely as possible, three years to the day. I have a little catching up to do first, as I first arrived in England on Oct. 12, 2012.

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My first stop was Salisbury, England, where Woolson lived for a while in 1884 while she was writing her novel East Angels. She lived within the cathedral close, the largest in England, and enjoyed walking around at dusk, when she could see into the clergymen’s windows where they were having cozy tea times with their families. I stayed in a B&B just across the road from the cathedral close and enjoyed my own strolls around the grounds. Today there are cars, though, that zip along this lane to pick up children from the cathedral school.

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While Woolson was living in Salisbury, Henry James came down for a visit one day. She had just been living in London, where she had seen James frequently and they had become much closer friends. That blustery day they took a carriage out to Stonehenge. I tried hard too imagine the two of them walking around the stones, no barriers, the place almost deserted. It’s impossible to have the same experience today, but this was a moment when I could at least take shot without the hordes and the ropes in the way.

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On October 12, I took a long walk around the bucolic Salisbury environs, along the path that crosses the water meadows. “Very pastoral,” I wrote in my journal. You can see the cathedral spire, the tallest in England, from just about anywhere. Constable painted some famous scenes of it. One of the goals for my trip was to take long walks in the countryside, as Woolson did daily. This was the only time I was really successful at finding the kind of path that Woolson probably walked on. (And my feet weren’t killing me yet.)

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Another cathedral town Woolson fell in love with was Wells, the smallest in England, which I visited on October 13. It is a lovely village with a towering, gorgeous cathedral. What Woolson really loved about it was that it had a bishop’s palace next door with a real moat and drawbridge (pictured). She called it “the most interesting spot in England.” But she only stayed for a little while and ended up finding a more permanent home in Oxford. I’ll revisit the university town next.

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