Miss Marple’s Cottage, and other Literary Geography for Holidays

Planning holidays is so exciting, and even more when I manage to combine some literary activity to go with it! Holidays are a chance to see how other people live away from our home… As Courtney said earlier about her missed encounter with New York City:

when friends return from fabulous trips and share their pictures, it’s never the fact they saw the Vatican or the Empire State Building that I envy, it’s the lives they had the opportunity to slip into, however briefly, that I covet – the quiet moments sipping an espresso near the Seine or enjoying a glass of wine in a Spanish restaurant Zagat has never heard of – those are the moments I want to make up my time in places other than where I live.

With the very same spirit, we’ve decided to go live in the “real” English countryside with Baby Smithereens, and we’re going to rent a small cottage in the Cotswolds. I love it when we have “our” house and visit the local shops for food and new habits (but I’m going to draw the line at Marmite). Choice was wide and fun, but we eventually set our heart on a child-friendly place exactly at the central point between 3 places we want to visit:

  • Bath… for Jane Austen
  • Oxford… well for the books, what else? Btw, I love that in my guidebook, bookshops are listed right after “Orientation” and before hotels and food, and even before “Emergency”… It’s good to have priorities set.
  • Stratford-upon-Avon… for you know whom (except I fear it might be a tad too touristy, any opinion out there?)

These will be day-trips, but the rest will (hopefully) be quiet time unwinding in the countryside. I hope to have Baby Smithereens meet some English cows, just to check if they moo the same on both sides of the Channel. English readers, do you have any other (literary or not) suggestions in the area?

Much to my shame I completely suck at geography, even for my own country, so English shires sound somehow familiar to me but I just can’t put them on a map at all, except perhaps Cornwall. When we decided for the Cotswolds, I saw the pictures and declared that it had to be Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead. I really could picture the little old lady in one of those cute cottages. But apparently Agatha Christie rather puts it down in Kent. Then I decided it was to be Inspector Barnaby’s Midsomer village… Wrong again, as the series are mostly shot in Buckinghamshire.

Well, does anyone know if the Cotwolds are present in novels? A database of books classified by location would be great, but I couldn’t find any.

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11 thoughts on “Miss Marple’s Cottage, and other Literary Geography for Holidays

  1. Nancy Atherton’s “Aunt Dimity” mystery series is mostly set in a village in the Cotswolds. It’s an odd series in which one of the sleuths is a ghost, but I rather enjoyed the early books in the series (beginning with “Aunt Dimity’s Death”).

  2. This has to be the best summer plan I know of! Like Courtney, I travel to live other lives. And to come home and see my life differently.

    As for the Cotswolds, I can think of nothing I’ve read that’s set there — such lovely villages, too. I’d think that somebody could write a very amusing and interesting story or novel about a French family spending the summer in the Cotswolds with their baby.

  3. Colin Dexter’s Morse books are set in and around Oxford, which I assume means the Cotswolds, but then I am at least as bad at UK geography as you with less excuse. Mostly in Oxford though I think.

    They are lovely though, the Cotswolds. Good choice.

  4. Oh, have a lovely holiday! funny – my own rambling thoughts look so much more elegant when isolated and italicized! I can’t wait to hear about the vacation – get lots of rest!

  5. It sounds like you are planning a wonderful holiday! I can’t think of any books set in the Cotswalds. I have heard it is very beautiful there though. I am looking forward to hearing about it after you return, and pictures, please be sure to snap a few 🙂

  6. I must say that I have a wonderful literary Cotswolds story for you, one of my favorite literary stories ever–the problem is that I have to write it up. I’ll try to do it this weekend. But you can get started by looking up Elizabeth Elstob and George Ballard. The shortest version is that Ballard was an 18th century antiquarian living in… the Cotswolds… can’t remember exactly where–okay, it’s Chipping Campden. And it goes on from there. Elstob was known as “the Saxon Nymph,” a fantastic young female scholar who took on Swift, and she disappeared after the death of her brother, her only support, in 1715. Ballard, a generation younger and a somewhat comical character, became aware of her and then stumbled on her, impoverished and teaching school for a pittance in the next town over, Evesham I believe. With her help, he embarked on his own literary project, the Memoirs of Learned Ladies, and through his connections to the bluestockings he found her a living as a governess at a big country estate. I first discovered this story through an article by Ruth Perry, and have wanted to follow Ballard’s trail of discovery ever since. Sorry it’s not a book exactly–but it should be!

  7. Hmm. I’m not at all familiar with the Cotswolds, but you’d think that there are some books set there. If I come across any, I’ll let you know. Your plan sounds idyllic! I wish I could slip into another life about now, but as usual I will have to live vicariously through others! 🙂

  8. Oh, that sounds like a wonderful vacation! I love vacations where I’m in a new place, but the plan is to rest. My vacations normally don’t look like that at all, actually, but I do love the idea! How great that books form a centerpiece of the trip — I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time!

  9. Thanks for all your suggestions! I’ll check on Bookmooch if some novels by Atherton,Trope or Dexter are available. We still have 3 weeks before the holidays, that leaves me some time for preparation!

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