Writers’ houses

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What is more exciting than discovering literature through the house of your favorite authors? France has preserved through the years the various mansions, castles and farmhouses where numerous writers spent their days writing and where sometimes, they died alone. by Clea Chakraverty 

La Vallée aux loups, Chateaubriand's house

In France, about 290 homes of writers are open to the public, a list of which can be found in the guide produced by the Fédération des Maisons d’écrivains. The ability to see their private surroundings and the atmosphere of the period gives an insight to the life and time of the writer. Frédérique Kerhervé from the blog “Maisons d’écrivains” reminisces her days as a guide in Hauteville, Guernesey, because of her passion for Victor Hugo. “I had the extraordinary chance to be around this house where he lived for so long. It is a particular emotion of being so close to such a writer, to impregnate oneself from the atmosphere of a place that escapes the noise and furor of contemporary life once the visitors have left. The garden becomes silent again and goes back to its owner’s desires, who cultivated it, while one can hear the sea waves rising towards the pavilion where he used to write. This was the experience that led me to create my blog. Between fascination and oblivion, how do these old stones survive and reinvent themselves?” Many represent for the visitors “a time that does not exist anymore but that have stories to tell” explains the blogger. “Some like Dumas ’ Monte Cristo castle in Port Marly or Loti’s house in Rochefort are exuberant as their owners became more popular and rich”. However, houses retain a distinct feeling. Especially those belonging to writers who traveled to other continents and filled their homes with strong memories from their journeys.

Alexandra David Neel’s house « Samten dzong », is such house. The name was chosen by the author, a French explorer and a lover of the Orient. She found solace in Digne les Bains, the small village in the country side of the Alpes de Haute Provence. In this place full of memories, today a museum, she lived for 30 years in three stays and wrote a huge part of her literary works. The evocation of her large trips in Asia and of her personal quest starts with an exhibition of pictures covering 101 years of adventure, from Tibet to China. In the house of the explorer, the small meditation room, her working place and her tiny sleeping room which she named her ‘hole‘ testify of the simple life she lived in Digne, as a small part of Tibet in Western Europe as she wanted it.

Maison de Pierre Loti, Turkish Salon

In Rochefort, on the western coast of France, Pierre Loti, also known under his real name as Julien Viaud (1850-1923), has spent years working on his mansion, filled with artifacts from his travels, and where he used to live as per the characters of his books. The visitor is allured by a bourgeois French mansion from the  outside, sober and quite common. Inside however, intimate scenes from the life of the author have been recreated. For instance, his ‘Turkish living-room’ contrasts drastically with the Salon rouge and the Salon bleu on the ground floor and typical of French bourgeois  Viaud family. The interior of the house is inspired by Gothic and Renaissance touch in rooms where the explorer used  to host lavish parties. His Chambre arabe adornes a moucharabieh. The Mosquée room was brought together from bits and pieces of artifacts and antiques he had acquired in Damas. But the marble basin and columns were made to measure by a local artisan. Pierre Loti used to recreate decors according to his imagination.

In India too, writers have been staying in lavish mansions or, sometimes, in cramped houses. Thus is the case of renowned Urdu writer Sadaat Hasan Manto, whose centenary birth anniversary has been celebrated by intellectuals all over India. The prolific and provocative writer has lived in Mumbai till the Partition. He was then staying in an old building on Clare house, in Byculla, known to writer Rafique Baghdadi who occasionally takes Manto fans for a walk in the surroundings. Another world famous name is Sir Salman Rushdie, who was born and raised in Breach Candy, although no one seems to remember in which house he lived. Some, like Rudyard Kipling’s house, are still visible. The author of The Jungle Book and Kim was first raised in the midst of Mumbai, very close to Crawford market, on the campus of the JJ school of Art and Architecture where his father was working. The house was bound to become a museum but the project has been shelved and the house will be used to accommodate the Dean of the school. Maybe one day, Mumbai will honor the memory of its writers. For now, they bring the city alive in their stories.

Texte publié dans Impressions ( Alliance Française de Bombay)(sept-nov 2012) 

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Directeur de publication : Délégation Générale de la Fondation Alliance Française en Inde et au Népal

Rédacteur en chef : Laurent Elisio Bordier

Rédacteur/Coordinateur national : Siddharth Bhatt

Rédacteurs, contributeurs : Guillaume, Abhirami, Alexandre, Chintan, Cléa, David, Eleonore, Elie, Kanika, Karine, Nita, Thomas, Malvika, Marie-Joëlle, Meera, Mayuri, Mitushi, Alice, Prutha, Romain, Ritika, Manas, Supriya ...