Literary Boston neighborhoods

Globe Staff / July 5, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

The authors who have captured the sights and sounds of Boston over several hundred years did not limit themselves to locations on Beacon Hill and in town. In search of subjects and themes, they ventured further afield to the city's neighborhoods, to Allston and Brighton, to Charlestown and the South End, to Dorchester and Roxbury, to the furthest corners of the city, to Castle Island in South Boston, to Suffolk Downs in East Boston and to Brook Farm in West Roxbury -- and even out into the waters of the harbor. You'll see the places that inspired them on this second map of literary Boston.

1. "The Sound and the Fury"
by William Faulkner (1929)

"The car stopped [at Allston Station, now the Sports Depot] and I got off, into the middle of my shadow. A road crossed the track. There was a wooden marquee with an old man eating something out of a paper bag, and then the car was out of hearing too. The road went into trees, where it would be shady, but the June foliage in New England not much thicker than April at home, I could see a smoke stack. I turned my back to it, tramping my shadow into the dust.”

2. "American Note-Book"
by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1868)

"Almost all the farmers, within a reasonable distance, make it a point, I suppose, to attend Brighton fair pretty frequently, if not on business, yet as amateurs. Then there are the cattle people and the butchers … and the dealers from far and near, and every man who has a cow or a yoke of oxen to sell or buy, goes to Brighton on Mondays."

3. "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu"
by John Updike (1960)

"Fenway Park … is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934, and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between Man's Euclidean determinations and Nature's beguiling irregularities."

4. Eugene O'Neill's self-written obituary

When O’Neill died, in 1953, at the Hotel Shelton, now a Boston University dorm (91 Bay State Rd.), he had already written an obituary notice: “Born in a goddam hotel room and dying in a hotel room.”

5. “Murder at the Gardner”
by Jane Langton (1988)

"Mrs. Jack had expected fashionable Boston to follow her from Beacon Street with new ranks of lofty marble town houses. But fashionable Boston had gone elsewhere, and now the elaborate dwelling she called Fenway Court stood by itself.”

6.“The Godwulf Manuscript”
by Robert B. Parker (1974)

“We turned south on Huntington Avenue, past the new high-rise apartments, a hospital, another college, and out onto the Jamaicaway. Big houses, mostly brick, set well back and sumptuous, lined the road. Elms which had survived the Dutch disease arched over it, and to the right in an extended hollow was Jamaica Pond, wooded and grassy under the gray slush.”

7. “An American Politician”
by F. Marion Crawford (1884)

“The ice had been cut away in great quantity for storing and the thaw had kept the pond open for a day or two. Then came the sharpest frost of the winter and in a few hours the water was covered with a broad sheet of black ice that would bear any weight."

8. “The Blithedale Romance”
by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1852)

“And, by-the-by, we were favored with many visits at Blithedale [Brook Farm], especially from people who sympathized with our theories. …In their view, we were as poetical as Arcadians, besides being as practical as the hardest-fisted husbandmen in Massachusetts.”

9. “Harvard Yard”
by William Martin (2003)

“On a Sunday in late August, a train came out from Boston to Camp Meigs in Readville [where the 20th Massachusetts Regiment was training], a gridiron of tents on the dusty plain between the Neponset River and the Blue Hills. … Dorothy Wedge Warren and several of the other mothers had made a white silk banner. On one side was the Massachusetts coat of arms, on the other the Latin words Fide et Constantia, faith and constancy.”

10. “The Cardinal”
by Henry Morton Robinson (1950)

“The Cathedral [of the Holy Cross] had been in its day an architectural marvel. … [But] at the turn of the century a noisy procession of elevated trains began roaring past [its] enormous rose window at three-minute intervals. The intolerable clatter marred the dying fall of pulpit oratory, broke in on prayer, and destroyed meditation.”

11. “The Late George Apley”
by John P. Marquand (1937)

“You said we shouldn’t be seen together, [Mary Monahan], but you met me that Sunday on Columbus Avenue. … I am going down to Worcester Square to call on you next Sunday. If your brother Mike doesn’t like it, it’s time he knew better.”

12. “The Promised Land”
by Mary Antin (1912)

“[To Antin, who came from Russia as a young child] Dover Street was my fairest garden of girlhood, a gate of paradise, a window facing on a broad avenue of life. Dover Street was a prison, a school of discipline, a battlefield of sordid strife. The air in Dover Street was heavy with evil odors of degradation, but a breath from the uppermost heavens rippled through, whispering of infinite things.”

13. “The Rise of Silas Lapham”
by William Dean Howells (1885)

“Lapham drove on down Washington Street to Nankeen [Chester] Square … where he had lived ever since the mistaken movement of society in that direction ceased. He had not built, but had bought very cheap of a terrified gentleman of good extraction who discovered too late that the South End was not the thing, and who in the eagerness of his flight to the Back Bay threw in his carpets and shades for almost nothing."

14. “Boston Boy”
by Nat Hentoff (1986)

“But to the regulars, there was no place like [the Savoy Café], certainly including home. The music; the conversation; the chance to talk, as if you had been accepted as an equal, with the musicians between sets at Morley’s next door. And a regular could watch, over the seasons, love affairs begin, grow, and explode at the Savoy Café.”

15. “Blanche Cleans Up”
by Barbara Neely (1998)

“Dudley Square was full of Saturday afternoon bustle: kids running out of the library, police cars taking up too many parking spaces, women jockeying strollers and shopping bags, men checking out the women and one another’s cars. … The smell of Jamaican meat pies from Dudley Pastry wrapped around her like a mother-made cloak. The music snaking out of Nubian Nation across the street put extra rhythm in her walk.”

16. “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965)

“So I went gawking around the neighborhood - the Waumbeck and Humboldt Avenue Hill section of Roxbury. … I saw those Roxbury Negroes acting and living differently from any black people I’d ever dreamed of in my life. This was the snooty-black neighborhood; they called themselves the ‘Four Hundred,’ and looked down their noses at the Negroes of the black ghetto, or so-called ‘town’ section.’ ”

17. “The Given Day”
by Dennis Lehane (2008)

“[Lieutenant] McKenna raised a hand above them all. ‘We are sworn to serve and protect Americans in general and Bostonians in particular. The Letts, well,’ he chuckled, ‘the Letts are neither, gents. … They have chosen to ignore the city’s strict orders to march and plan to parade from the [Dudley] Opera House … until they reach Franklin Park, where they will hold a rally in support of their comrades - yes, comrades - in Hungary, Bavaria, Greece, and, of course, Russia.”

18. “Agnes Surriage”
by Edwin Lassetter Bynner (1886)

“Arriving after a long drive at the [Governor Shirley’s] House [where Agnes, a Marblehead girl, was to sing], they mounted the granite steps and sounded the ponderous knocker.”

19. “Blue Hill Avenue”
by Mark Mirsky (1972)

“Now and then he made a mistake. For instance, the time after the great hurricane which knocked down the huge elm trees along Blue Hill Avenue. … It was just before the elections. Simcha [Tantzenn] toured Dorchester with a sound truck announcing … the lights would be on the next day. ‘I pwomise!’ … So none of the merchants bought ice for their deep freezers. … When Edison finally turned the electricity on, thousands and thousands of frozen foods were ruined. And so was Simcha — temporarily.”

20. “The Lost Constitution” by William Martin (2007)

“At Columbia, [Peter Fallon] took a left onto Boston Street. [It was] strange to see the Clapp House, one of the oldest houses in Boston, sitting on a grassy knoll, just a dark shadow looking out at all the televisions flickering in the three-deckers across the street.”

21. “Darkness, Take My Hand”
by Dennis Lehane (1996)

“Meeting House Hill is the dividing line where [Patrick Kenzie’s] neighborhood ends and Fields Corner begins. … The tip … rises through the grid of cement and tar to form a pauper’s field in the middle of a neighborhood so blighted you could fire a missile through its center and no one would notice unless you hit a bar or a food stamp office.”

22. “The Diagnosis”
by Alan Lightman (2000)

“A voice on a speaker said, ‘Next stop, Ashmont. End of the line. Ashmont. Thank you for riding the T. Don’t forget your belongings.’ … Chalmers sat dazed in his seat. … The train was empty and silent. In the distance, an automobile groaned, sliding its sound into the muffled hum of the station. … It was 9:09 by the giant white clock in the station.”

23. “Revere Beach Boulevard”
by Roland Merullo (1998)

“The language of racing felt like my true native tongue. And the track itself - Suffolk Downs, with salty breezes shifting in off the ocean, and the sweet smell of cigar smoke, and crowds of bettors … lining up at the windows - felt like my truest home, a place where the rules were as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror.”

24. “Oliver Wiswell”
by Kenneth Roberts (1940)

“The shape of the Charlestown peninsula, as [Loyalists in Boston] saw it … was that of an enormous muskrat, half submerged … the low fortifications thrown up by the rebels were on the middle of the three swellings; and across the floating tail that in reality was Charlestown Neck, more and more rebels coming for the fight still were moving.”

25. “The City Below”
by James Carroll (1994)

“[Terry Doyle] knew that the impression most outsiders had of Charlestown came from the fearsome, low-rent end that abutted the Mystic River Bridge from which commuters looked down. … Outsiders … knew nothing of Monument Square or the streets leading into it where fine Victorian houses stood, proudly kept not by the wealthy who had built them, but by the large, intact families of Irish firefighters and cops.”

26. “Old Ironsides”
by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1830)

“Ay, tear her tattered ensign down! Long has it waved on high, And many an eye has danced to see That banner in the sky.”

27. “Boyos”
by Richard Marinick (2004)

“ ‘Wacko’ loved Castle Island with its Civil War era fort and wide-open spaces that offered few hiding places for police surveillance. … Sean Brancaccio threw up his arms and stretched like a cat. ‘It’s a beautiful thing, Jack, a real pretty score, almost as pretty as this place in the morning. Nothing beats Castle Island, huh, but the trick is to get here early before the morons arrive.’ ”

28. “All Souls”
by Michael Patrick MacDonald (1999)

“There was always something to do in Old Colony, and it seemed a much bigger place than the six or so blocks it actually was. … We had our own beaches - plastic wading pools and lawn chairs on the cement in front of the buildings. And we had our own friendships and fights. … Old Colony was all ours, and we never wanted to leave.”

29. “Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller”
by Neal Stephenson (1988)

When I got to the water between Spectacle Island and South Boston … the sky was blue in the east and black in the west. I had no interest in wasting time. … The wind was coming up, the temperature dropping, and below me was a sea of poison. [Environmental vigilante Sangamon Taylor] struggled into the scuba gear … turned on the big strobe, and dove.”

Latest Entertainment Twitters

Get breaking entertainment news, gossip, and the latest from Boston Globe critics and A&E staff.