The Summer Homes of 5 Legendary Authors

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What do great authors do at their summer homes? Compose our favorite beach reads.

1. AGATHA CHRISTIE - Greenway • Devon, England

Christie called it simply “the ideal house.” She bought the cream-colored mansion and its verdant flower gardens, which sweep down to the River Dart, in 1938 for a mere £6,000—about $200,000 today. She especially liked the bathroom, where she soaked in the tub and dreamed up book ideas. (She even had a ledge installed over the tub to hold paper, pencils, and apples.) On top of inspiring tons of novels, Greenway turned Christie into a ruthless flower contest junkie. The estate took home so many blue ribbons that Christie felt bad for the competition. She started her own prize—the Agatha Christie Cup—to give others a chance.

2. MARK TWAIN - Quarry Hill Farm • Elmira, NY

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Twain’s stories may transport you to the banks of the Mississippi, but that’s not where he did his writing. For 20 summers, the humorist traveled to the “quietest of all quiet places”—his sister-in-law’s hilltop farm in Elmira, New York. Twain wrote inside a small, detached octagonal study resembling a steamboat’s pilothouse (above). The view of the Chemung River—which Twain called a “foretaste of heaven”—gave him the peace and quiet to write classics like Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, and Huckleberry Finn. It’s also where Twain met John T. Lewis, a free black man who worked on the family farm. In 1877, Lewis saved two of Twain’s relatives by jumping on a runaway carriage and stopping it before it could spill over a bluff. Instantly a family hero, Lewis became one of Twain’s closest friends—and the likely inspiration for Huck’s timeless buddy Jim.

3. VIRGINIA WOOLF - Talland House • St. Ives, Cornwall

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Angry waves still crash into the rocky white lighthouse that inspired Woolf to pen her modernist masterpiece, To the Lighthouse. She spent 13 of her childhood summers in St. Ives, Cornwall, in this home overlooking Porthminster Bay, a place her father called “the very toenail of England.” A prominent editor and critic, Woolf’s father was a close friend of author Henry James, who frequently visited Talland House and played with Virginia. She recalled it being the only place that made her consistently happy.

4. BEATRIX POTTER - Lingholm • Cumbria, England

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Most remember her as the mother of Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin, but Potter’s neighbors knew her better as that-lady-who- herds-all-those-sheep. Potter first came to the summer estate in the Lakes District when she was 19, and she quickly budded into an amateur naturalist. She drew pictures of the woodland wildlife scampering in the backyard, which eventually appeared in her children’s books. (Lesser known are her drawings of, and academic writing on, fungi spores. Hey, you can’t be famous for everything.)

5. F. SCOTT FITZGERALD - Cap d’Antibes • French Riviera

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Fitzgerald was rich and famous by the time he was 23. Despite all that success, he escaped to France and summered on the French Riviera, where he could “live on practically nothing a year.” His villa in Cap d’Antibes had a pool terrace, a private beach, gardens, a view of the Mediterranean Sea, and even its own nightclub. He wrote the Great Gatsby there and also met the couple that inspired him to write Tender Is the Night. (It’s said the book’s cover was inspired by the view from his terrace.) His presence also helped turn the then dirt-cheap Riviera into a pricey haven for American tourists.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here, and our iPad edition here.

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June 20, 2014 - 4:38pm
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