Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which zoomed up the bestseller charts and was made into a movie with Julia Roberts. Her new book is something different — a novel, The Signature of All Things, spanning the 18th and 19th centuries that’s anchored by life at a vast estate. That estate, it turns out, was modeled on the Woodlands, the beautiful cemetery and old mansion at 40th and Woodland in West Philadelphia. (The cemetery once was the home of a herd of deer but then they disappeared, rumored to have been exterminated by the former ownership. But that is just been a rumor.)
“It was so obvious as soon as we drove up. That’s it! Everything about the Woodlands was right,” Gilbert told the Inquirer. And historically, given the novel’s focus on botany, it made sense to the plot:
In real life, the Federal-style Woodlands, built in 1788, was the country home of William Hamilton, a gentleman intensely interested in architecture, landscape design, and botany. He traded seeds with Thomas Jefferson, another talented plantsman, and William Bartram, son of John, the noted Philadelphia botanist.
The Woodlands is getting a renovation now, but we hope not too much changes. It’s one of the city’s most beautiful spots as is.
• Earthy pleasures in Gilbert’s new novel