Writers’ Houses are often surprising places, because it is not always easy to anticipate what they might look like. We might imagine somewhere quiet, in the country probably, with a study overlooking a well-tended garden in which the author might stroll in search of inspiration. The reality, in fact, only rarely measures up to this model. This new broadsheet from The British Land Company PLC illustrates the fascinating diversity of houses in which famous writers have lived.
Good writing frequently embodies a strong sense of place and this may be closely related to the author's own experiences. In trying to picture the kind of environment in which the writer has lived, many of the clues may, in fact, already be present in their work. The colliery village where D H Lawrence was brought up, for instance, can be identified in several of his books. But would Victorian readers have guessed that the author of Wuthering Heights had written 'the most passionately original work in the English language' in a dour and claustrophobic parsonage? Perhaps not, but with the benefit of hindsight this broadsheet offers an appreciation of these figures and their writing through a glimpse into the circumstances of their daily lives.
The places where writers live can be extremely interesting. They may be significant buildings in their own right, although not many authors have been able to afford such splendid properties as William Morris's Kelmscott Manor and Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst Castle. With most of them, too, their home is also their workplace - whether that means a book-lined study or a decrepit garden shed. It helps us see through to the real person behind the book if we can picture them writing it.
More important, perhaps, is the resonance of each house. Writers need inspiration and material and they often take this from what is closest to hand. Early experiences always count strongly, and the surrounding landscape often confirms the sense of place, sometimes quite overwhelming, that comes through in the writing. Visiting a writer's home or birthplace, we might detect their silent presence in the house, echoes quite distinct from those evoked by the carefully garnered displays of memorabilia and period artefacts. We come away with a much deeper understanding of just what makes that writer tick.
The British Land Company PLC, (Educational Publications), 10 Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park, London NW1 4QP The text and illustrations are copyright but may be photocopied and circulated for classroom use.