Wednesday 22 April 2020

Novel Houses: Twenty Famous Fictional Dwellings, Christina Hardyment

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In this journey through literature from Horace Walpole to J. K. Rowling, Hardyment attempts to demonstrate the central importance of houses in literature. She explores the influences and inspiration of some of the best loved fictional dwellings and considers how these buildings sometimes become characters in their own right. The twenty chosen novels are dealt with chronologically, allowing the reader to understand the progression of ideas and how the authors could be influenced by each other. Each chapter lasts on average only ten pages but there feels a great difference in the depth of analysis between them.

The likes of Walter Scott and Horace Walpole were interested in the medieval period and this is reflected not just in their writing (in which Hardyment points out their aims and preoccupations relevant to their contemporary political and social situations) but also in their own homes. Later authors are attributed to having particular obsessions with the idea of home or of one particular house that they mentally held on to throughout their lives. These claims occasionally feel a bit loosely evidenced with only a couple of quotes thrown in to add seeming authenticity.

Some chapters offer interesting analysis of the text, explaining how buildings were personified or used to explore certain character traits, reversing expectations. Others seem to be largely padded out with a synopsis of the story, unnecessarily revealing plot points with little relevance to Hardyment’s arguments. I’d previously read about half the books discussed and this allowed for a good mix in enjoyment. If familiar with all twenty I’m not sure you’d get much from this book.

A beautiful book with moments of insight but not overall adding much to the conversation. It did, however, pique my interest in a number of the books I’ve yet to read and is a gentle, bookish read.

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