The House of Fiction

By Phyllis Richardson

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A cultural exploration of British houses in fiction

Publication date: July 2017
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About the book


Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill

Great British Houses in Literature and Life

For every novelist there is a background story, but in the English canon there is often a tantalizing link to house and home.

Horace Walpole’s fascination with medieval churches led him to build his own ‘little Gothic castle’, Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, which in turn inspired him to write the first English Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto.

In the Regency period there was a vogue for ‘improving’ grand country houses of the kind used to bold effect by Jane Austen as settings for her sharp-witted society novels. The celebrated author was, herself, no stranger to a manor house or a good ballroom, where she at times ‘danced nine dances out of ten,’ or ‘drank too much wine … I know not else how to account for the shaking of my hand today.’

Fictional houses have captured readers’ imaginations for centuries, from Gothic castles to Georgian stately homes to Bloomsbury townhouses and high-rise pent-houses. This book illustrates how writers have used real and imagined houses to reflect the themes of their novels; how houses become like characters themselves, embodiments of the social and historical currents of their time, and it examines the particular connections those authors may have had to each one.


Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford

Phyllis Richardson takes readers on a journey through history to discover how authors’ personal experiences of houses and home life helped to shape the imaginative dwellings that have become icons of English literature. Virginia Woolf’s love of Talland House in Cornwall is palpable in To the Lighthouse. E.M. Forster described the appeal of his childhood home at Rook’s Nest in words that mirror the idyllic charm of Howard’s End, 'I was brought up as a boy in a district which I still think the loveliest in England…hedges full of clematis, primroses, bluebells, dog roses and nuts.’ Like his fictional architect Philip Bossiney, John Galsworthy had an affair with his cousin’s wife, slipping away with her to a house in the country, which they later lived in as man and wife.

Using historic sources, authors’ biographies, letters and published news accounts, as well as the novels themselves, The House of Fiction presents some of the most influential houses in Britain through the stories they inspired, while offering candid glimpses of the writers who brought them to life.

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