Archive for October 24th, 2018

Where great writers wrote, and why it fascinates us.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

Why do the places where writers wrote – the rooms where they spent hours, day after day, over pen, typewriter, laptop, or quill – so fascinate us? I wrote a series of articles about pilgrimages I’d made for The Times Literary Supplement, including the home of Elizabeth Bishop outside Rio de Janeiro, the home of Constantine Cavafy in Alexandria, and the various homes of Alexander Pushkin in Moscow, Petersburg, and Kishinev, among other places. I’ve visited Mikhail Bulgakov‘s home in Kiev, and Boris Pasternak’s dacha in Peredelkino, and Marina Tsvetaeva‘s digs in Moscow. I’ve written about Czesław Miłosz‘s home in Kraków on the Book Haven. And on this site I’ve also recounted Patti Davis‘s visit to Albert Camus‘s home in Lourmarin. We’ve even written (a little) about our own oaken desk and Minerva owl here, where we write late at night for you, gentle reader.

Now we have Emily Temple writing about famous authors’ homes over at LitHub. You can go over here for all of them, but I’ll pick two of the lot that are my favorites: the studies of Mark Twain and Victor Hugo. Both have great views, which is something to stare at while you’re thinking.

Exile isn’t so bad if you can live in a place like this. Writes Temple: “Victor Hugo bought a house on Guernsey, an island in the English channel. There, sitting in his writing room (called the Crystal Room), looking out at gorgeous, light-filled vistas, he wrote his dark and depressing classic Les Misérables.” Depressing? Are we talking about Les Misérables? It’s shot with light. And no wonder, if he wrote it in a place like this.

Every year Mark Twain‘s family spent time with his in-laws in Elmira, New York. And so they built this study for him, and he loved it. So do I. It’s where he wrote his major books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and others. Here’s what he had to say about it:

“It is the loveliest study you ever saw. It is octagonal with a peaked roof, each face filled with a spacious window, and it sits perched in complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightning flashes behind the hills beyond and the rain beats upon the roof over my head—imagine the luxury of it.”

Go here to read about how Ray Bradbury wrote Farenheit 451 in the UCLA Library – and why he needed a sack of dimes to do it. What James Baldwin drank at the Paris café where he worked on the first draft of Go Tell It on the Mountain. And all about the Istanbul hotel where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express.