Where great writers wrote, and why it fascinates us.


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.

2 Responses to “Where great writers wrote, and why it fascinates us.”

  1. Robert Gwynn Says:

    Victor Huge grew so enormously famous that he filled the entire Isle of Guernsey to the extent that all the cattle fled to Jersey; a friend suggested that he settle on the Isle of Man, but Huge, a god, thought that the island would be beneath him. Elizabeth Bishop never had a home, and she was homeless to the degree that she had to accept a lota hospitality from a Ms. Soares, who had room to spare. It’s true that Mark Twain had a nice study; it was decorated in scarlet and he loaned it to his pal Arthur Conan Doyle when he was in town and Twain was out on it. Many have said that Mark Twain wrote mostly in bed, but I am convinced that his native language was Anguish, with a lot of dialects thrown in. He took the pseudonym Twain so no one would discover that his real name was Clemons, and, besides, he could never remember if it had one “m” or two. I have read Fahrenheit [sic] 451 and paid a couple of dimes (those were the days) to see it in the theater. Then they went and made a movie out of with this English fireman with a German accent and two of the prettiest female actors I have ever seen playing the same part. I once heard they were going to remake it with Mel Gibson in all the rolls, which is probably much less of a better idea than anyone ever thought it was. I have a small room–well-padded–where I compose old poems and new comments almost every day except Sunday, when the ball games are on. They are treating me very well here.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Good to hear from you, R.S. And don’t bang your head in that padded cell.