With each passing day, our excitement grows for the release of Elizabeth Gilbert's new novel The Signature of All Things! We've had the pleasure of spending time with Liz during her many recent visits to The Woodlands, the very place that inspired the setting of White Acre in her book. And now we're pleased to share with you a blog post that she's written just for us about her experiences and inspirations at The Woodlands.
My novel, The Signature of All Things, is a big tale of 18th and 19th century botanical explorers, following the fortunes of the fictitious Whittaker family (who make their trade in the early pharmaceutical business.) While the book takes place all over the world, I knew from the start that I wanted to base the Whittakers in Philadelphia, and I dreamt of them living in a vast, palatial estate (graced with gardens and greenhouses) on the Schuylkill River. But I also wanted the novel to be plausible, so I went searching about to see if, in fact, there had ever been any vast palatial estates (graced with gardens and greenhouses) built on the Schuylkill River. To my delight, I stumbled upon The Woodlands, which became the wonderful model for my novel’s fictitious estate, White Acre.
So much of The Woodlands ended up in my novel — providing me with marvelous details which, I believe, help the book spring to life. I was so impressed by the carriage house, for instance, that I gave it a central role in my narrative. (Alma Whittaker, my heroine, has her private botanical study there.) I also loved the basement of The Woodlands — particularly the caged-in butler’s bedroom (which shows up in my novel as the bedroom of the head housekeeper, Hanneke de Groot.) And the tiny little hidden room off the library became, in my book, “the binding closet” — where some of the most important scenes in the story occur.
The Woodlands has now become so intrinsically entwined in my mind with White Acre that I can scarcely tell the two apart. I’ve been so grateful, as well, to the welcome that the curators of this great American treasure have given me — to the grounds, to the rooms, to the history. My hope is that my imagined story will draw very real readers to this very real place, so that The Woodlands will continue to get the appreciation it so richly deserves!
The Signature of All Things releases tomorrow (October 1, 2013), and we're sure it will be a bestseller! For those who are familiar with The Woodlands and its magic, we hope Liz's passages with resonate with your experiences of this historic estate. For those just learning of The Woodlands, we can't wait to share it with you! Check out our Visit page to learn more about the grounds, the mansion, and taking a tour.
And--just in case you missed it--take a look at the promotional trailer for The Signature of All Things, filmed at The Woodlands!