This September, the world celebrates the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Like most of her novels, “P&P” has an English country setting very much like that of Hampshire, the place Jane Austen called home. I once visited the author’s house, in the village of Clawton, a brick and squarish structure softened by roses all around. Inside, a dressmaker’s dummy stands in the vestibule attired in one of Jane’s frocks, buttoned up and unremarkable—nothing that Keira Knightly (Hollywood’s Elizabeth Bennett) would be thrilled to wear. Once inhabited by only three 19th-century females, the house is now open to as many as 30,000 visitors a year, who peer at the author’s pianoforte, bed linens, washbowl, and hundreds of other items that speak of a simple life at home.
Flash forward to another time and place: 1930s north-central Florida, a rustic house in an orange grove, where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote her most famous novel, The Yearling. This year marks the 75th anniversary of that Pulitzer Prize-winning American classic, and celebrations continue through April, 2013, at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in Cross Creek. I may not make this deadline, but should I go there any time from October to July of any year, park rangers in 1930s period dress will be on hand to tell me about how Rawlings wrote and lived on her “cracker-style farm.”
For both Austen and Rawlings, the writing and the home life were inextricable. In the case of Austen, the minor gentry of Hampshire (with cameo appearances by a clergyman or admiral or countess) allowed her to stray no further than her vestibule for her material. Rawlings struggled before she found anything similarly convenient to write about. She’d worked for years on Gothic romances set in England, a place she’d visited only briefly. But encouraged by Maxwell Perkins, then editor at Scribner’s, she turned her gaze to the Florida wilderness teeming around her. The people and vegetation and creatures of Cross Creek were the making of her career—and of her life. She once said, “I do not understand how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to.”
In this issue, Caroline Ketcham, The Great Smokies Review UNC Asheville intern, echoes the connection between writing and living in a place of enchantment. (See Reflections: “Writing Home.”) About her summers on a North Carolina island, far from her home in New Hampshire, Caroline recalls, “My letters were an attempt not only to connect myself with my friends, but to connect myself with the island. In my letters, I could pretend the history was practically my own, and nobody would be the wiser. In a sense, I was writing myself into the history of the island; I was writing it to make it mine.” And now, about her new home, she writes, “Asheville has filled the empty spaces inside me. When I write, it comes from these spaces: consequently, every word I put down on the page takes the elegiac shape of these mountains’ bones.”