Think back to the place where you grew up. Remember the sights and sounds, the characteristic smells and tastes, plant life and animals. Think about how you went from place to place–on foot? in a boat? on the subway? Did your town change a lot as you were growing up? Did you move from that place to another, once or many times? How far do you live from where your ancestors lived?
These elements of place and time shape our lives, form experiences, and become our memories. The type of biography that considers these directly is geo-biography. Let’s see what light it can shed on our favorite author.
Emilie Baker Loring’s ancestors were all from England and arrived very early. The last of them straggled over in the 1650s, and with few exceptions, they lived in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for the more than two hundred years before Emilie was born. (Maine didn’t become a state until 1820, so her many ancestors at York and Kittery were still in Massachusetts.)
Each generation spread out a little bit more, as you can see by the spread of green for Emilie’s ancestors, orange for her girlhood, and blue for her married life. Even so, she stayed well within the bounds of New England, with all of the associations that brings to mind.
As important as region and town are the architecture that surrounds you and the relationship of your home to others.
Until she was in her twenties, Emilie lived in vertical, multi-story townhomes, pressed between others just like hers, with the smallest of gardens in back, if there were one at all, and the pulse of the city just beyond the front door. The Baker homes were filled with books and a constant stream of authors and performers–busy, creative, and vibrant.
Summer took her family to grand hotels on the Atlantic shore. They were still pressed in among other lodgers–often her father’s publishing friends–but with wide porches, cooling breezes, and broad beaches for strolling.
An exception was the full year they lived in a hilltop mansion on Cape Cod, with porches all around and unobstructed, 360-degree views of the ocean, the village, and their own fifteen acres. It was a life-changing year in several ways, with an opportunity to really think and consider in solitude, atop that hill.
After marriage, Wellesley Hills gave Emilie nearly thirty years of country living. The Lorings’ large home sat on an acre and a half, with a garden, a stable, and its own orchard. Emilie’s creative pursuits all began in this wide-open setting. Coincidence? Hardly. And yet, for all its rural spaciousness, their home was nestled in among trees and gardens, no view beyond their own grounds.
The purchase of Stone House in Blue Hill changed that. The Lorings bought 250 acres, from the top of a steep hill all the way down to their own, deep-water, granite wharf. Halfway between was Stone House, with spectacular views of Blue Hill Bay from its windows and broad veranda.
Once she was established as a novelist, Emilie enjoyed her best combination of environments. She lived in a city apartment on Beacon Hill and wrote at the Boston Athenaeum in the helpful company of likeminded writers from late September until the Fourth of July.
Then, she departed for the freedom and inspiration of Stone House in the quaint village of Blue Hill. It was like going to summer camp–beautiful Blue Hill Bay, spruce and fern-filled forests, outdoor living, gardening, and the relaxed company of summer friends.
Time changes some things and not others. Today, cars speed down the tree-lined East Blue Hill Road, with little sense of what lies beyond, to left or right. It takes imagination to picture the gravel road of Emilie’s day, forests largely cleared for lumber and to make way for granite quarrying. The driver of this horsedrawn wagon could have seen Blue Hill Bay easily to her left. (Note the telephone/power poles in both photos!)
Travel time has changed, too. Whether on foot or by wagon, the mile and a half from Stone House to the general store took much longer than it does now. When we think of Emilie’s days, we need to remember to leave extra time for most things.
Less changeable is the granite shoreline. These photos were taken one hundred years apart, one from my camera and the other from Emilie’s. Granite confers a sense of permanence. This shore, Blue Hill Mountain, and Emilie’s Stone House were all made from it.
Against the granite move the ever-changing tides, a yin/yang of qualities, permanence and change, knowledge and curiosity. It’s no wonder that artists gravitate toward the coasts. They are places open to experience, playful and exciting.
Emilie Loring lived more years in Stone House than in Wellesley Hills or on Beacon Hill, but she spent more of each year in Massachusetts than in Maine. How do you think she felt about her several homes?
When it was fully her choice, she set eight of her thirty novels in Maine, and six of these are Blue Hill stories. Eight are sprinkled about Massachusetts–two on Cape Cod–but none took place fully in Boston, and only one is identifiable as Wellesley. (Honorable mention goes to Washington, D.C. with four, and she never lived there.)
Did she refrain from using Boston to be different from her fellow Boston authors, maybe to keep from accidentally challenging the standard statement, “All characters and incidents in this novel are fictitious…?”
Emilie Loring once defended her use of lovely homes by saying that she spent the greater part of a year in the atmosphere of a story, and she preferred “charming surroundings.” Something similar could be said for Maine, with its sapphire water and azure skies, briny kelp beds and fern-filled forests. Then again, we know how she loved the hum and action of the city, how much she valued interactions with her fellow Boston authors.
It’s fun to think about how each home, through its geography, gave her something unique.
As an author and as a woman, she benefited from both.
Happy Landings, everyone!