From a Hobbit Hole to luxurious interiors and picturesque castles, ten memorable homes from the literary world
Where do we get ideas for our dream homes? For bibliophiles likes us, the inspiration comes from the books we grew up reading. The house we own would have a lush green lawn like “Tara” (or a small but well kept garden for tea parties, just like the ones the Enid Blyton kids grow up in), a warm study with the smell of tobacco like 221B Baker Street, a pool to rival the one in the Pandavas Palace in Indraprastha, and a madcap ensemble of characters such as those that inhabited Blandings Castle.
Here, then, are ten of the most memorable homes from fiction.
Pandavas Palace in Indraprastha (The Mahabharata)
And sometime after, the king, mistaking a lake of crystal water adorned with lotuses of crystal petals for land, fell into it with all his clothes on. Beholding Duryodhana fallen into the lake, the mighty Bhima laughed aloud as also the menials of the palace….Beholding the plight of Duryodhana, the mighty Bhima and Arjuna and both the twins–all laughed aloud.
Were it not for this magnificent palace of illusions built by the Demon Maya, the Battle of Kurukshetra may not have happened. It was here that Duryodhana was mocked by the Pandavas when he mistook a glass floor for a swimming pool, and later fell into a pool of water thinking it was glass. It was enough to spur the Kaurava Prince to embark upon the greatest war in the history of Hindu literature. And while the version we’ve been shown on TV tells us that Drapauadi was one of the Pandavas who laughed at Duryodhana – which later prompted her attempted disrobing – the older versions indicate that it was the Pandava brothers who were present when Duryodhana fell into the pool.
Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Pemberley (Pride and Prejudice)
It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.
Ohh Elizabeth Bennett! You know we love you, but let’s be honest here. It was the house you fell in love with first, and then the man! Really, who can blame you? The way Austen describes Pemberley, we would be willing to let go a few prejudices to become its mistress too! There is of course a bit of Victorian snobbishness at play here-in the admiration for simplicity and grandeur over pomp and adornment. But just like its master Mr. Darcy, Pemberley is a house that appeals to only those with the finest of tastes and a touch of the old-fashioned about them.
221B Baker Street (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows.
Possibly the most visited fictional address in the world, the rented apartment that Doctor John Watson shared with Consulting Detective Sherlock Holmes was the starting point for all their adventures. It was in the warmth of the sitting room that Holmes and Watson listened to the bizzare tales of their clients; it was here that Holmes played the violin in the middle of the night and stashed away his syringe of cocaine in a Moroccan leather case; and it is here that we meet the much harried Mrs. Hudson, the owner of 221B Baker Street.
Interestingly, house numbers on Baker Street did not go as high as 221 when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes adventures. But that did not stop readers from sending letters to the the address – so much so that when the house number came into existence, its owners had to appoint a secretary to simply manage Holmes’ fan mail!
Sherlock Holmes’ Study recreated in The Sherlock Holmes Museum; Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Gatsby’s House (The Great Gatsby)
His house had never seemed so enormous to me as it did that night when we hunted through the great rooms for cigarettes. We pushed aside curtains that were like pavilions, and felt over innumerable feet of dark wall for electric light switches—once I tumbled with a sort of splash upon the keys of a ghostly piano. There was an inexplicable amount of dust everywhere, and the rooms were musty, as though they hadn’t been aired for many days.
In Fitzgerald’s incisive The Great Gatsby, houses act as mirrors to the souls of their inhabitants. Thus Gatsby- all new money and longing and reinvention-lives in a house that is vast, decadent and unfeeling- “a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy”. It is a house meant to host lavish parties for thousands, but never really play home to a family of two, whereas the Buchanans – representing all-American sun-tousled blonde ambition- live in a “cheerful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay.”
But Gatsby will never really belong to the hallowed world of old money – or grasp the “green light” he craves for so achingly. The dream represented by the other side of the bay will always be just an inch out of his reach however many rooms he may build in his florid McMansion.
Tara (Gone With The Wind)
Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything, for ’tis the only thing in this world that lasts.
What would Scarlett O’Hara’s story be without Tara? The home that she was born into, where she flirted with her suitors and fought with her sisters; where she was pampered by her mother, scolded by Mammy and petted by her father; the land for which she toiled, fought and even killed? The story of Scarlett’s smarts and resilience is also the story of Tara’s solidity and survival.
In the end, Scarlett loses everything – her love for Ashley, her marriage with Rhett, her beloved daughter Bonnie, her soul sister Melanie – but Tara does not desert her. Her beloved father was right after all.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
One of the most famous first lines in literature introduces us to Maxim de Winter’s ancestral estate on the Cornish coast. The luxurious home – in one of the most enchanting parts of England – is peppered with priceless heirlooms and manned by an army of domestic staff – but it is also haunted by the ghost of its former mistress and the open animosity of the head housekeeper towards the new occupant. And therein begins the legend of Manderley.
Manderley image from Alfred Hitchkock’s Rebecca; Courtesy http://hookedonhouses.net/
Blandings Castle (Something Fresh, Leave it to Psmith, Summer Lightning, Blandings Castle and Elsewhere ….)
You can keep your Downton Abbeys just as long as we have Blandings Castle to ourselves! The dysfunction of that Tudor pile, the sheer impossibility of its upkeep, with long forgotten rooms (and guests), and the wonderfully madcap adventures of Lord Emsworth, Galahad Threepwood, Lady Constance Keeble, Baxter and Beach keep us returning to this fictional house more than any other on this list.
None other has a prize pig as its inhabitant, does it?
Winston’s Apartment (1984)
It was partly the unusual geography of the room that had suggested to him the thing that he was now about to do.
George Orwell raged against homogeneity and the death of individualism in the searing 1984. There is no beauty in his fictional future- least of all in the buildings and houses of that time.
The protagonist Winston’s apartment is dominated by a telescreen that watches his every move. There is nothing to recommend the place, with its phlegmatic elevator, paranoid neighbours and overall dilapidation. But, by some quirk of fate, there’s an avenue for rebellion there – an alcove that Big Brother cannot see into. It is this oddity in design that inspires the first of Winston’s “thoughtcrimes” as he begins to write a journal in his secret corner.
We all know how the story ends, but its worth remembering that it all began in a depressingly anonymous apartment on the seventh floor of Victory Mansions.
Mr. Biswas’s House (A House For Mr. Biswas)
In his original design the solicitor’s clerk seemed to have forgotten the need for a staircase to link both the floors, and what he had provided had the appearance of an afterthought. Doorways had been punched in the eastern wall and a rough wooden staircase – heavy planks on an uneven frame with one warped unpainted banister, the whole covered with a sloping roof of corrugated iron – hung precariously at the back of the house, in striking contrast with the white-pointed brickwork of the front, the white woodwork and the frosted glass of doors and windows.
For this house Mr.Biswas had paid five thousand five hundred dollars.
While we admire Naipaul’s intelligence and clarity, we’ve never really warmed up to him as a writer, except in the case of a A House for Mr. Biswas. It is a book we return to again and again- for its pathos, for its humour and for the wonderfully etched character of Mr. Biswas who is partially based on the author’s father. The house that he struggles to own all his life may not be perfect, but it represents a freedom from the past and its baggage, and a security blanket for the future. Sometimes thats all that matters.
Bag End (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings)
In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
If we ever get the chance to live in a literary home, we will choose Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End in the blink of a hobbit-minute. Located in the pretty dale of Shire, Bag End has comfortable rooms with domed ceilings, an inviting and well stocked kitchen, a garden tended by none other than Samwise Gamgee, and a beautiful green door with a brass knob. As it that wasn’t enticing enough, it is where Gandalf comes knocking to fetch Bilbo Baggins, and later his nephew Frodo, for the adventure of their lifetime. As they wander through forests and dungeons and battle dragons, spiders, wizards and kings, it is Bag End that they carry in their hearts and the Hobbit-hole that they yearn to return to.
Ah, what we wouldn’t do to spend a spring day in Bag End, singing and dancing with Merry and Pippin until we ran out of breath, spending the night under the stars listening to Gandalf spin a merry yarn about elves and dwarves and wizards and hobbits.
Image courtesy: Flickr
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