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    Friday, January 06, 2006

    Huck Finn's Hartford Birthplace, With Little Eva Across the Lawn



    If you haven't enough time for a trip to Concord, Mass, Maura J. Casey suggests Hartford, where tours are offered of the homes of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.

    HARTFORD may be little known as a prized haven for famous authors, but for nearly 20 years in the 19th century, that's the role it played for two of America's most pivotal writers. One changed history; the other changed American literature.

    Guess who's who. Anyone who thinks Uncle Tom's Cabin didn't change American literature as much as it changed history is casting a line when s/he should be casting a net, but ...

    The windows overlook the backyard, which borders the Clemens house, and one can easily imagine the two writers dropping in on each other. Tour guides in both houses told a story of Clemens's scandalizing his wife by visiting Stowe without his hat and coat, necessary accessories for a gentleman. He sent a servant to Stowe's home afterward with the articles of clothing on a tray and a handwritten, tongue-in-cheek apology. She wrote a note back saying that she knew writers could serialize a story, but this was the first time she had encountered a writer who could serialize a visit.

    The geographic connection to Stowe helped save Clemens's house long after both authors were dead. Stowe's great-niece, Katherine Seymour Day, bought the Stowe house in the late 1920's and a year later was involved in purchasing and saving the Clemens house. Both houses escaped demolition while stately homes around them were torn down to make way for schools and other projects.

    If Stowe's reputation is enjoying a revival, as Ms. Kane contends, Clemens's brick house, with its opulence and its shiny new visitors center and museum (both built in 2003), reflects widespread admiration that has never waned.


    The only thing that's a little less exciting about the Stowe house is that she wasn't writing while living in Hartford, she was taking a retirement after raising seven kids and completing an intensive career as a writer and reformer. So, it's not as though you're seeing the birthplace of "little Eva" and company. But this still seems like a great day trip to visit the ghosts of two authors I love.

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