Lit Major Abroad

Romantics in Rome: the German Edition

IMG_1457.2Last week I looked at some of the English Romantics who chose to call Rome their home. I’ve already discussed one of my favourite museums in the world, the Keats-Shelley House, but Rome also appealed to writers from the other side of the Channel. So while in Rome I decided to visit the Casa di Goethe and see where the famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived, wrote, and painted. It was also a place of particular interest because at the time I was knee-deep in Goethe’s book Italian Journey, about his time in Italy (though not literally knee-deep, of course. That would have been embarrassing while trying to read on the train to Pompeii).

So what was this famous German writer doing in Rome? Well, it’s a funny story, and it goes something like this:

Lit Major Abroad

Romantics in Rome


Go thou to Rome,—at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness …

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats’

John Keats, one of the best-known poets of the Romantic era, died in Rome in 1821. Not long after, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote these beautiful and heartbreaking lines, which encourage the reader to visit Keats’ grave in Rome. Since then, Keats’ final resting place has fascinated generations of visitors. A few weeks ago, I decided to visit it and try to grasp its significance for myself.

Keats left England for Italy in 1820. In a little house on the Spanish Steps, he spent his final months with his friend Joseph Severn, fighting the illness that would eventually claim him. Today the house is a museum, devoted to the writing of Keats and his contemporaries.

Lit Major Abroad

Just Like a Greek Drama


The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!

-Lord Byron, ‘The Isles of Greece’

Now that I’m back home and going through the depressing delightful process of sorting through the pictures from my trip, I have a feeling the last leg of my journey through Europe will take more than a few weeks to find its way onto the internet. Today I’d like to share just a few little bits and pieces from the country that gave the Western world so much in terms of culture: Greece.

Greek mythology is full of juicy stories and amusing anecdotes. Greek drama became the basis upon which Western civilisation crafted their own plays for hundreds of years. And then, of course, there’s the philosophers, statesmen, and poets that the ancient city of Athens produced. By all accounts, if you had to pick somewhere in the pre-Christian world, ancient Attica was the place to be. So a visit to modern-day Athens is necessarily steeped in centuries of history, not to mention the expectations of the thousands of tourists that flock there yearly.

Lit Major Abroad

The (Ruined) Towers of Ilium


Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

-Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus.

I’ve studied both literature and classics for many years. I’ve always loved pottering around ancient ruins, unsuccessfully trying to imagine what they would have looked like in their heyday. So when we decided to go to Turkey, my sister and I agreed we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a site that had captured our imaginations years before, while we were still wide-eyed first-years at university.

The ancient city of Troy (or Ilium) features in one of the oldest surviving texts in the world; Homer’s Iliad. It’s one of the best-known legends of all time, although Homer doesn’t actually mention the most famous part; the Greek soldiers, after ten years of unsuccessfully besieging the city of Troy, leave a giant wooden horse on the beach where their camp was and sail away. The Trojans, quick to believe that after ten years of a mentally and physically gruelling siege the Greeks simply gave up (my psychology professors would chuckle at this bit), wheel the giant horse into the city. Celebrations ensue. The Trojans get ridiculously drunk. Night falls on the city and everyone lies fast asleep. The Greek soldiers hidden in the horse creep out and open the city gates to let in the rest of the army. Massacres ensue. Troy falls.

Lit Major Abroad

Melancholy and Innocence: One Day in Istanbul

BlueMosqueA few months ago I read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul. I’d been meaning to read something of the Nobel laureate’s work for years, but I’d always expected to start with something like My Name is Red or Snow. I read Istanbul on a whim and was instantly fascinated by Pamuk’s description of a city coloured by the experience of hüzün, or ‘melancholy’.

Then, a few weeks ago my sister and I began planning our trip to Greece, and though neither of us had proposed it, somehow we found ourselves deciding to stop in Istanbul for a few days. Both of us being fans of preparedness when it comes to travel (i.e., paranoid) we spent days reading about the city and its environs. By the time we actually landed we were so full of travel articles urging caution for female travellers in Turkey that we were beginning to regret our impulsive decision to go at all. Pickpockets, harassment, avoiding the city at night; it’s probably not surprising that we scurried back to our hotel as soon as dusk fell on our first night there.

The next day we stepped cautiously outside and began our wanderings. The city was peaceful. The talkative salesmen and restaurant owners had yet to emerge from their respective establishments. Most of the tourists were still sleeping and the stray cats were almost the only company we had that first hour of the day. It only took a little while for us to relax. The tourist area was lovely; beautifully spaced out, you find yourself standing with the ancient Hagia Sophia on one side and the regal Blue Mosque on the other. We spent the morning visiting these main sights and, sufficiently confident by lunchtime that we would make it home alive, crossed the Galatea Bridge.

Lit Major Abroad

Lit Major Abroad: London Calling (Only We Keep Getting Disconnected)

IMG_0530.2As promised in my last post, I’ve got some juicy tidbits to share from my recent trip to Turkey and Greece. But before I get ahead of myself, I need to finish up the British leg of my journey. I spent an amazing few days in London before Christmas. Of course, not everything I did there was literary-themed. So I’ve decided to write a little recap of my book-related activities, partly because I like to stick to themes and partly because at the rate I’m going now I wouldn’t be done recounting my entire trip until next Christmas. So, here goes:

London, Day 3: The British Library

The British Library isn’t a particularly pretty building from the outside. It’s certainly nothing to the imposing grandeur of, say, the British Museum. But much like one should never judge a book by its cover, the really important stuff is on the inside. The British Library apparently adds about three million titles to their shelves every year, as well as receiving a copy of every book printed in the UK and Ireland. Which is quite a sobering thought when I consider the full-to-bursting state of my Ikea bookshelf back home. Three million books makes my own space-related problems seem pea-sized in comparison.

Lit Major Abroad Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday: Meerkat Holmes

Wordless Wednesday: Meerkat Holmes

Holmes’ greatest disguise yet. (In Cambridge, UK)

Lit Major Abroad

Lit Major Abroad: Home on the Heath

IMG_0385.2A lot of people don’t like revisiting cities they’ve already seen. I’m the opposite; I feel that once you’ve visited the famous landmarks – all the things every tourist ‘has to see’ – you’re free to see some more out of the way, unexpected things. This is especially true in big European cities. I don’t think one visit is ever enough for places like London, Paris, or Rome. On my first full day in London, and I was eager to see something a little ‘off the beaten track’. So I decided to spend the day on Hampstead Heath. Luckily, the Heath has a great deal to offer in the literature way.

I started by making the trek to Highgate Cemetery, where quite a few notable people are buried. Karl Marx is probably the most famous name; his statue’s bulbous head (about three-quarters of which is just beard) is on the front of the map they gave me in the little shed-like entrance house. I, however, was most eager to see the grave of Mary Ann Evans, also known as Mary Ann Cross, also known as George Eliot, the famous nineteenth century novelist.

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable visiting cemeteries and taking pictures of graves; as if my tourist’s nosiness is somehow least excusable when photographing monuments under which people are buried. But it was a beautiful, sunny day, and Eliot’s grave is in a nice little spot. I actually passed by it the first time; two women were lighting candles on one of the graves and I thought it would be rude to intrude on their private moment. When I returned ten minutes later, I found that the candles they had been lighting had, in fact, been for Eliot’s grave. It was a sweet gesture, and testament to her influence across the generations.

Lit Major Abroad

The Most Famous Door in Dublin

joycecentre2Merry Christmas, my fellow book lovers! Now that the Festive Season is drawing to a slow, quiet end, I thought I’d share some more from my trip. I’ve spent the last few days in Europe visiting family. I’ve been without internet, which can be both liberating and stressful. If you’re the sort of person who checks the weather intermittently on their phone (as though by checking it every five minutes you can somehow control it), or can’t keep track of their spending without firing up a Google Doc, you’ll understand why I use the word ‘stressful’.

But that’s not why I’m here today. I want to talk about my last day in Dublin, which was actually much more than a week ago (but let’s pretend I’m more organised than that and I wrote this up sooner). We managed to get quite a few exciting literary-themed activities into the day. Our two main writers for the day were James Joyce and W.B. Yeats.

In the morning we set off for the north part of Dublin and a nondescript little row house which claimed to be The James Joyce Centre. The sign outside promised a veritable feast of activities:

Lit Major Abroad

Journalism and Literature: Dublin Day Two and Some Fun Facts

IMG_0315.2“The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.”

-Oscar Wilde

I’ve fallen sadly behind with recounting my trip to Europe. Apparently, after seven hours of wandering around in the chill of pre-Christmas London, the last thing you want to do is sit down and try to catch up on blog posts. I promise you, I always wake up with the best intentions, but no matter what I do, by the time I return home at night I fall straight into bed like I’ve forgotten what pillows feel like. Here is a rough idea of the way our day usually ends up going:

7am: Wake up. Look at the clock. Decide that it is ok to sleep for another ten minutes as am ‘on holiday’. Promptly fall into a deep sleep.

9am: Wake up and begin panicking because have already ‘wasted half the day’.

9:15am: Spend forty-five minutes getting dressed, drying hair, and putting on make-up. Perform complicated choreographed dance with sister as both of us try to use one air-raid-shelter-sized bathroom. Continue to panic and swear all the while for sleeping in so late.