Have you ever read an author's work and wondered where the inspiration came from? What surrounding scenery led to the author's creation of new worlds, new characters, to emerge on each page of the novel in your hand? Did Clarissa Dalloway kiss Sally Seton, smelling the fresh flowers and green summer grass, in the same garden where Virginia Woolf sat, writing her story? Unfortunately, to humanity's and to my own great dismay, we may never ask Mrs. Woolf this question in person; her thoughts have been lost to the Ouse River, drowned away in the waters of her death. But on a lighter note, what does remain, for all writers of the past and present, are the landmarks of their writing: the footsteps traveled, the homes inhabited, the stains of ale on aged wooden countertops. What remains for each of us to experience are the places holding the memories of our most beloved authors, where we can see what they saw, envision their thoughts turning into words on a page, and develop the inspiration for our own writing.
I have recently returned from a trip abroad, studying creative writing in Lewes, England with my fellow English enthusiasts from Rutgers University. Over the course of my two and half week stay in England, I was able to experience the wonders of a literary pilgrimage, of the magnificence in visiting the homes of writers who have influenced not only modern literature, but my own writing. Hiking through the South Downs of England's Sussex County, I journeyed to the homes of Virginia Woolf, Henry James, and Rudyard Kipling, experiencing the greenest, most beautiful landscapes along the way. Despite the sweat stains, blistered toes, and hefty amount of complaining, on my part, during these scheduled hikes to each writer's house, there is no sweeter taste than that of completing a 12 mile hike with an afternoon nap in Virginia Woolf's garden.
Inspiration is difficult to capture through words; words may be the result of inspiration, but the feeling in itself is something indescribable. After walking through the tour of Monk's house, the once home of Virginia Woolf, and viewing her private bedroom, her lovely garden, and most of all, her glass enclosed writing room overlooking vast green meadows, I felt a surge of creative inspiration unlike anything prior. There is something that must be said, and deeply encouraged to pursue, about simply sitting in an English garden, where one of the most influential female writers of the past sat, and envisioning her writing the words to Mrs. Dalloway in the very same spot.
In the rest of my travels to the homes once occupied by Henry James and Rudyard Kipling, my feelings of awe and inspiration only amplified. Walking through hidden pathways, sitting in flower filled gardens and writing poems of my day's hike, viewing the rooms where Kipling envisioned the world of The Jungle Book, I truly understood the incredible value of preserving these writers' homes. If there is ever an opportunity to visit Sussex, I only ask you to do what I've done: pack a knapsack and throw on your hiking boots, travel along the South Downs, stop as many times as you like to breathe in the unbelievable views, and make your way to the homes of some of England's greatest writers from our past. And, if you're a writer, don't forget to bring a paper and pen, because I dare you to sit in Virginia Woolf's garden and not write the greatest poem of your life.