Wordsworth compared his work to a 'gothic church', while Proust wanted his fiction appreciated as one would a cathedral: to writers with a sense of their own grandeur, the book is a blueprint of a magnificent, even transcendent, building. Yet could these architects of spatial form have anticipated that, rather than assembling in the stained light of the authorial intellect, many people would later make do with poking around the more prosaic buildings in which they wrote, shat and slept?
It is hard not to feel ridiculous in writers’ homes, especially when you have not bothered to read much of them beforehand (I have visited some of these places fairly sure I have not read a single word of their work). In one of the rooms at Haworth, looking into a glass case containing I-don’t-know-which-sister’s tiny slippers, I wonder what kind of authorial presence the literary tourist is groping after. What is insufficient about the experience of reading that makes visitors seek these other material connections with the author – houses, papers, clothes and, most preposterously, crockery? If anything it is dulling to be amongst these domestic relics, seeing how banal much of a writer’s existence was, how much more ordinary a childhood home than the one evoked in the memoir. The disjunction can be deflating. (more...)