Monadnock… A Literary Inspiration

Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of hosting some of the faculty for the New Hampshire Institute of Art’s MFA Writing for Stage andScreen program.  In this two-year, low residency graduate studies program, students, faculty and mentors come together twice a year for 10-day residencies that feature a collaborative approach.  One of the really interesting aspects of the program (especially from a non-playwriter’s perspective) is that each semester, professional actors are brought in to read the students’ works and offer feedback.

So with all of the literary creativity buzzing around the bed and breakfast this month, it just seemed fitting to write a blog on other literary artists inspired by or in the Monadnock Region.  (I’d also like to give a nod to MonadnockLiving magazine that included a feature on “Literary Monadnock” in their Fall/Winter 2016 issue.)  Among the “biggies” are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Yates, and Thornton Wilder.

Ralph Waldo Emerson brought attention to Mount Monadnock with his 1846 poem Monadnoc.  His passion for the mountain seemed to bring many other literary leaders to visit the area for inspiration.  He is reported to have climbed the mountain several times, and there is a lookout, Emerson’s Seat, named for him on the mountain, but actual details are thin.

Thoreau’s Seat, Mount Monadnock

Henry David Thoreau made trips to Monadnock in the 1840s and 50s.  He kept very detailed accounts of his experiences in his journal and featured the mountain in his poems and other works.  Thoreau’s Seat on the Cliff Walk Trail and a bog near the summit of the mountain are named to honor Thoreau.

Mark Twain spent the summers in 1905 and 1906 in the shadow of Mount Monadnock. He is quoted as writing “Monadnock, a soaring double hump, rises into the sky at its left elbow – that is to say, it is close at hand. From the base of the long slant of the mountain, the valley spreads away to the circling frame of hills, and beyond the frame the billowy sweep of remote great ranges rise to view and flow, fold upon fold, wave upon wave, soft and blue and unworldly, to the horizon fifty miles away. In these October days Monadnock and the valley and its framing hills make an inspiring picture to look at, for they are sumptuously splashed and mottled and betorched from sky line to sky line with the richest dyes the autumn can furnish; and when they lie flaming in the full drench of the mid-afternoon sun, the sight affects the spectator physically, it stirs his blood like military music.”

View of Mount Monadnock from the south side of Dublin Lake… Who wouldn’t be inspired?

Willa Cather visited Jaffrey many times in the early 1900s.  She is reported to have worked on her novel My Antonia while in Jaffrey and is buried in the Old Burial Ground behind the 1775 Meeting House in Jaffrey Center.

Children’s book author Elizabeth Yates settled in Peterborough in 1939 and wrote many of her works here including her novel Amos Fortune, Free Man, for which she won the 1951 Newbery Medal.  Her farmhouse and land in Peterborough was donated to the State of New Hampshire and is now the site of Shieling Forest.

Grover’s Corners (in Peterborough)

And last but not least… all around the town of Peterborough, you’ll businesses and locations with “Our Town” in their name, in what is generally accepted to be a reference to Thornton Wilder and his play Our Town.  Thornton Wilder had ten stays at the MacDowell Colony during his lifetime and he is known to have written portions of the play Our Town during one of his visits there in the late 1930s.  The MacDowell Colony, founded in 1907, is the oldest artist colony in the country.  The Colony accepts artists and writers in seven different disciplines (architecture, music composition, film/video arts, theatre arts, visual arts, literature and interdisciplinary arts) and has clearly played a part in introducing many writers and other artists to the beauty of this part of the world`.  From what I have always heard and read, Thornton Wilder would never say that the play was based on life in Peterborough, but there are many similarities.  One of the major streets in Peterborough is Grove Street, and the name of the town in Our Town is Grover’s Corners. There’s also talk of the milkman and the cemetery in the play as having been directly inspired by those in Peterborough.  But of course, there’s always room for interpretation.