I’ve always been somewhat amused by the accounts of Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud’s brief bohemian affair. The older, married, and internally tortured Catholic Verlaine’s pining for the self-destructive and precocious young Rimbaud always presents a ridiculous picture in prose. But it’s a picture that takes on much clearer contours when, for the first time, I get to see the house they occupied on 8 Royal College Street (above). The image of the house, with its forbidding brick façade, gives their really pretty unpleasant story a gravitas that literary history can’t approach. Whether seen in person or in a photograph, the effect of viewing any revered author’s home is similar: histories once subject to biographers’ caprice take on the irrefutable weight of physical reality. And while I’d love to have the luxury of a pilgrimage to all my literary heroes’ homes, I’m content with the next best thing: an internet tour in pictures. That’s exactly what one gets at the Writers’ Houses site, which has collected dozens of images of famous writers’ homes, sourced mainly from user photos.
And so homebodies like myself can read their favorite Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnets while gazing at her Austerlitz, NY home “Steepletop” (below, a bit more modest than I’d imagined):
Likewise, I can read Flannery O’Connor’s grotesque little stories and be continually amazed that she did not emerge from some Medieval cloister in a fiery Southern wild but from the bright, rambling farmhouse called “Andalusia” (below).
And while I can only connect Thomas Hardy’s country gothic novels and bleak poetry with the terminal despair of a man who never leaves his firelit study in some sturdy, formal estate, his little cottage (below) is really kind of cheery and resembles something out of Peter Jackson’s Shire (though Hardy’s “Max Gate” home in Dorchester is exactly what I picture him in).
The Writers’ Houses site allows you to browse by author, state, and city, with a separate category for “international houses.” Its main page is a regular blog with a wealth of current information on writers’ homes, replete with links to other sites and sources. For lovers of travel and architectural and literary history, this is not to be missed.
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.