Literature can provide a peek into the past, serve as a snapshot of the present moment, or carry us into the future. From historical fiction to precise depictions of the world we live in, books serve as time capsules, and both real locations and those conjured by an author’s imagination offer vivid and adventurous literary settings for audiences everywhere.
Whether it’s an astoundingly accurate depiction of a small town, a city inspired by a real location, or a complete construction of a fictional world, authors use settings to set the stage for characters and their unfolding stories. Here, we’ve compiled a list of twelve literary settings that you can actually visit (and that are worth the trip).
Concord, Massachusetts (Little Women, 1868)
Although technically set in a fictional, unnamed village in New England, Little Women was based on author Louisa May Alcott’s hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. A central locale for the burgeoning philosophical Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century—in which subscribers believed in finding spirituality in nature and thought, encouraging self discovery. As such, travel and personal growth were important factors in the lives of the young women who called it home in Alcott’s fictional tale. While many of the sisters—four of the novel’s primary characters—traveled to Europe and other major U.S. cities like New York City, it was a critical point in the plotline that they always returned to the family home in Massachusetts. Concord exemplifies New England’s rich history and charm, and is well worth visiting today.
Long Island, New York (The Great Gatsby, 1925)
The glamor of the Roaring Twenties in New York quickly spread beyond city lines to the shores of Long Island beach communities. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel The Great Gatsby was initially considered a failure after its publication in 1925, but the Jazz Era tale has since become a beloved classic—modern film and television adaptations have bolstered its legacy and offered renewed interest in the story.
Long Island has been home to the rich and fabulous of the region and serves as a summer getaway for many city-dwellers. For the mysterious character Jay Gatsby, the community served as a playground for lavish parties, which were modeled after those Fitzgerald himself attended. Today, Long Island offers a picturesque getaway from the bustle of New York, but still just a short drive from the heart of the city. There’s no promise of a Gatsby-caliber party, but you never know what you’ll find in this East Coast destination.
Soledad, California (Of Mice And Men, 1937)
Soledad, California, is located in Monterey County and was in the heart of Post-Depression ranchland. Displaced ranchers found work in Soledad and its surrounding towns along the Salinas River, just as the main characters in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men sought out. The Salinas River provides a unique experience: It starts its journey in the Garcia Mountains and runs northwest into Monterey Bay. Ranches, national parks, and works of art reflecting the past punctuate this area, making it a national landmark and a historical lens of California.
Monroeville, Alabama (To Kill A Mockingbird, 1960)
The fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, as featured in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is based on the author’s real-life hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the most iconic books of 20th-century American literature, and it provides a look into racial tensions of the American South in the 1930s. Segregation, a racially divisive movement in U.S. history, was a defining social and political issue of the region, whose impact is still felt across the American landscape.
A visit to Monroeville today allows a glimpse into this complex history, as well as a journey through American literature: Named the Literary Capital of Alabama in 1997, it was home to authors such as Lee, Truman Capote, and Mark Childress, to name a few.
Rural England (Pride & Prejudice, 1813)
Though mostly set in fictional villages modeled after those of rural England, Jane Austen’s iconic novel Pride & Prejudice embodied much of England’s social climate during the Napoleonic Wars. Status and symbol were critical factors in choosing a partner and securing a comfortable lifestyle, and rolling fields and densely wooded areas serve as the backdrop for many of the book’s memorable scenes.
While you can’t visit the actual manor houses that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy frequented, many similar designs still stand today and provide whimsical locales to explore. For example, the city of Bath, England, has a museum dedicated to Austen’s work and small villages throughout the county of Hertfordshire offer a glimpse into the worlds that inspired her writing.
Paris, France (Les Misérables, 1862)
This classic story has seen a sustained appreciation since its publication. A musical adaptation, as well as numerous film and television versions have kept the history alive. Les Misérables is a novelisation of the June Rebellion, an anti-monarchy uprising of French citizens in 1832. While much of the poverty and desolation of the time has now disappeared, the book serves as a reminder of the past and an account of Paris’ turbulent history.
Today, Paris is a global destination for art and architecture. Museums, historical landmarks, and iconic landmarks offer a glimpse at France’s vibrant cultural past, and it’s one of the most notable places to visit.
St. Petersburg, Russia (Crime and Punishment, 1867)
Published in 1867, Crime and Punishment depicts a pivotal time in Russia. After the emancipation of over 20 million serfs, Russian society was forced to adapt to a newly structured population; one that flooded the former capital city of St. Petersburg with poverty and crime. Today, the city serves as a cultural and historical landmark, rich with references to the city’s storied past. Visiting St. Petersburg allows a glimpse at the history of the city and region at various museums, including the State Hermitage Museum, the second-largest art museum in the world, filled with a diverse collection of art and historical artifacts.
H4: London (1984, 1949)
In 1984—the dystopian novel published in 1949 by author George Orwell—London is far from its true form. For one, 1984 was written with the future in mind, not to mention the dark themes and alternate reality that twist the landscape of the city. Foreshadowing a propagandized world overtaken by endless war and overbearing government surveillance, the book doesn’t (and can’t) exactly represent London in an authentic fashion.
Now that the actual 1984 has come and gone, it’s safe to say that Orwell’s work isn’t the most accurate travel guide to London, but it does highlight the ever-changing landscape of this global destination. Today, technology and history, as depicted in the book, go hand-in-hand in London, defining an innovative landscape to visit.
Colombia (One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1967)
Gabriel García Márquez’s landmark realist work One Hundred Years of Solitude is set in the fictional town of Macondo, Colombia. While it depicts fictional events and characters, it reflects the postcolonial hardships of Latin America. Many of its themes and events are surrealist in nature, but political and social reflections are based on actual historical events. The culture and landscape of Colombia provide a rich look into the history of the country, as depicted in this work. Cities like Cartagena and Bogotá allow for dense cultural experiences while beaches and mountains offer stark natural adventures.
Asia and Australia (Oceania)
Victoria, Australia (Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1967)
Picnic at Hanging Rock unravels a mysterious tale of a group of school girls that went missing at Hanging Rock, a natural landmark, and the subsequent tragedies that ensue. While the book offers a more melancholy view of the region, the novel explores the dramatic terrain of the Victoria fixture. Today, it’s a popular spot for outdoor exploration and even hosts concerts throughout the year. A definitive representation of the expansive frontiers the continent has to offer, Hanging Rock allows for a unique contrast to the big city adventures of Sydney.
Kyoto, Japan (Memoirs Of A Geisha, 1997)
Starting in a small fishing village in Western Japan and later moving to Kyoto, Memoirs Of A Geisha tells the fictional story of a young girl that becomes a geisha. The well-known geisha district of Hanamachi is a popular location that sets the stage for much of the book. Geishas are part of a long history of art and entertainment in Japan, and that history today allows visitors a direct glimpse at this substantial past.
At the Mountains of Madness (1936)
Before space travel, Antarctica was somewhat of the final frontier. Harsh conditions and uncharted terrain rendered this mysterious continent a dream destination for adventure-seekers. Roughly twenty years after the first major Antarctic expedition, H.P. Lovecraft published At the Mountains of Madness in 1931, a tale of supernatural discoveries and unwarranted horror on the continent. While alien elements and unforeseen terror are not routine realities of the continent, extreme weather conditions and the dangers of new discovery were definitive in the global perception of the continent. Travel to Antarctica today is more accessible for tourists, but still requires extensive preparation for a full experience.
The Most Frequently-Used Locations in Literature
The setting of a novel is carefully chosen by authors as it sets the stage for the plot to unfold with a distinct atmosphere and mood. While many authors conjure up fictional locations to support the vision of their novel, others are inspired by real-life places. With countless examples of stunning settings in classic literature to choose from, we compiled a list of the most-used global locations in literature based on title and author recognition, as well as each location’s cultural and historical impact.
The setting is one of the most important components of a novel, and a talented author has the ability to transport us to a specific place and time in history. For example, London becomes nearly a character in itself in In the case of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861), the city of London itself nearly becomes a character as Dickens featured the city prominently in demonstrating his characters’ social classes and economic struggles. Today, some of the most-read classic books have afforded literary enthusiasts a diverse range of settings to explore around the world.