Do houses take on the characteristics of the people who live in them? Or do they, instead, shape the personalities of the people dwelling inside their walls?
For centuries, authors have found inspiration in the creaky hallways and haunted histories of manor houses — first in England and then throughout the world. Stately homes, often isolated and rife with secrets, are transformed from places of refuge — a home — into an atmospheric backdrop for secrets, betrayal, desperate love, revelations, and redemption.
In literature, as in life, a home is often seen as a reflection of a person’s status, motivation, and values — a nifty shorthand for conveying what’s important to a character. The physical description of a character’s surroundings tells us plenty about what makes them tick.
Authors can play twisted games with their characters by giving and taking away their sense of home. They’re orphaned (Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist), have their homes burned to the ground (Gone with the Wind), sent on unwanted adventures (Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz), or given the home of their dreams, only to find that reality falls short of the fantasy (The Great Gatsby).
And though Gothic English manor houses have become the archetypal abode for atmospheric storytelling — think Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Emily Brontës Wuthering Heights — other eras and locales have made significant contributions to the genre: 1930s Barcelona in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s novels, 19th-century Italy in E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, modern Scotland Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party, 1990s Sweden in Stieg Larson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and so many more.
Top image courtesy of Ethan Kent/Unsplash.
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