Sometimes I’m super excited to live in Switzerland. I like it here, and I’ve mentioned enjoying the change of pace, but I love literature and history and it’s wonderful to live in a place that’s steeped in it. Visiting England a couple of years ago was one of the best things ever because I got to see so many referents. I could read Keats’ Elgin Marbles poem in the Elgin Marbles room at the British Museum and visit his house and walk where Virginia Woolf walked through Bloomsbury and get a pint and chips at the pub where C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and their gang of Inklings hung out.
Switzerland has all of that wonderful history, too — the first thing I told Andrew when we found out we were moving was that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein here and the Shelleys and Byron and Polidori had a rather insane summer when Polidori also wrote the Vampyre (which established so many of our vampire stereotypes — Lord Byron is to blame, of course, as he was Polidori’s model for his vampire), Shelley wrote Mont Blanc, and Byron wrote The Prisoner of Chillon.
Naturally I want to see everything and go everywhere. We’ve taken lots of little day trips, and this weekend we went to see the Château de Chillon, which Shelley & Byron visited — I’ve been dying for a pretty day when we could take a boat out and spend the day exploring the castle and grounds — and I learned that the castle inspired many other writers, including Rousseau (La Nouvelle Héloïse), Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert, and Henry James (Daisy Miller). Louisa May Alcott even referenced it in Little Women.
We took a boat from Ouchy to the castle, which took about two hours with Swiss wine country on one side and the Alps on the other.
The château is just spectacular. We explored the dungeons that so inspired Byron and climbed to the top of the Keep. Byron carved his name into one of the pillars in Bonivard’s Prison — there are 7 pillars, and it’s believed Bonivard was chained to the 5th pillar, which is of course the one Byon marked. There’s something wonderful about seeing a physical record of hundreds of years of tourism.
Afterward, we got some drinks/snacks at a little beer garden (Andrew got a beer, Jen got ice cream, and I’d been dying for a cup of tea, so there was something for everyone), which we took down to the beach on the other side of the castle, and we hung out there for a while on the rocks, dangling our feet in Lake Geneva, before heading back to Lausanne by train.
Here’s the scene from Little Women, Chapter 41:
He had rather imagined that the denoument would take place in the chateau garden by moonlight, and in the most graceful and decorous manner, but it turned out exactly the reverse, for the matter was settled on the lake at noonday in a few blunt words. They had been floating about all the morning, from gloomy St. Gingolf to sunny Montreux, with the Alps of Savoy on one side, Mont St. Bernard and the Dent du Midi on the other, pretty Vevay in the valley, and Lausanne upon the hill beyond, a cloudless blue sky overhead, and the bluer lake below, dotted with the picturesque boats that look like white-winged gulls.
They had been talking of Bonnivard, as they glided past Chillon, and of Rousseau, as they looked up at Clarens, where he wrote his Heloise. Neither had read it, but they knew it was a love story, and each privately wondered if it was half as interesting as their own. Amy had been dabbling her hand in the water during the little pause that fell between them, and when she looked up, Laurie was leaning on his oars with an expression in his eyes that made her say hastily, merely for the sake of saying something…
“You must be tired. Rest a little, and let me row. It will do me good, for since you came I have been altogether lazy and luxurious.”
“I’m not tired, but you may take an oar, if you like. There’s room enough, though I have to sit nearly in the middle, else the boat won’t trim,” returned Laurie, as if he rather liked the arrangement.
Feeling that she had not mended matters much, Amy took the offered third of a seat, shook her hair over her face, and accepted an oar. She rowed as well as she did many other things, and though she used both hands, and Laurie but one, the oars kept time, and the boat went smoothly through the water.
“How well we pull together, don’t we?” said Amy, who objected to silence just then.
“So well that I wish we might always pull in the same boat. Will you, Amy?” very tenderly.
“Yes, Laurie,” very low.
Then they both stopped rowing, and unconsciously added a pretty little tableau of human love and happiness to the dissolving views reflected in the lake.
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Anindita is a writer, educator, book addict, geek, and occasional dog rescuer.