Everyone’s got their own personal slot on the biographical criticism spectrum. Whether you’re against taking an author’s circumstances into account when looking at the work or whether you wish there was a literary version of People Magazine, you’re on there somewhere. But I’m guessing not many people don’t like to see an author photo. As newborns we’re wired to recognize faces before anything else, and there’s something psychically grounding about having a set of features to attach to a set of words.
And coming a close second in terms of fixing the abstract in the physical world—one of the first inanimate object all children draw, no matter where they’re from—is a house. There’s always been a quiet current of fascination with author’s houses and rooms, and it doesn’t take much effort to preserve that tiny slice of a writer’s life for posterity. Perhaps because they do so much of their work in one place, at one desk, it’s an easily apprehended slice of authorial history that somehow doesn’t feel all that invasive to spy on. The Guardian has had a great run with its Writers’ Rooms series, and now there’s a new blog, Writers’ Houses, devoted to “the art of literary pilgrimage.” Curator A.N. Devers explains:
The impulse to create a site dedicated to documenting writers’ houses came from a growing obsession, since childhood, with books, travel, and making connections between a writer’s work and place.
The James Merrill House in Stonington, CT., is the first feature, with an elegant essay by Ivy Pochoda. As writer in residence there two years ago, she’s earned
an easy intimacy with the space. Her photographs have an almost watercolor-like mellowness to them—not your usual publicity pictures—and the whole effect is inviting. And speaking of which, the site has commissioned a set of limited edition prints of authors’ homes. I’m especially fond of the Poe Cottage, which is not far from this writer’s house.
Devers points out that there are 290 writers’ houses in France alone, so there should be no shortage of material. And if the initial posts are any indication, it should be rich and evocative, maybe worth dusting off your New Historicist lapel button for.
(Poe Cottage image by M+E)