Houses have always fascinated me. Anybody’s house. The old ones take me spinning into nostalgia for incidents I’ve never even witnessed…and the new ones are just an excuse for the imagination to go crazy about stories yet to be lived. Places I have stayed in or visited, form the structure around which most of my memories drape themselves…be it the huge ancient house my father was born in, the sunny airy apartment with a view to die for where I will always return to rest, the seriously dirty hostel room shared with strangers, or the tiny space that was ‘home’ when I lived alone for the first time. Little pieces of me have been left behind there, and like obstinate lint on coat, parts of every place will always cling to me.
And then there are the houses I wish I had lived in – and so much can I identify with them that sometimes it’s difficult to believe I haven’t! These wonderful creations don’t exist on any map, but anyone loving their stories as much as I do, know their address. So here’s a list of my top 5 favourite houses in fiction.
5. Wuthering Heights
Although the book is not one of my favourites, I would happily spend a night in this draughty, spooky house of shadows, with the gloomy marshland for company. Dinner would be in the huge kitchen with a log fire and real-to-good copper kettle on the hob. Every person would be sinister in some way, fitting in perfectly with the surroundings, the weather would be drizzly and depressingly grey, and conversation would be sparse. At night creaking noises and shrill cries from the moor would keep me awake, as the lone candle would sputter out to welcome Catherine’s spirit through the open window.
4. Blandings Castle
A true-blue English country ‘castle’ laid out with manicured rose gardens, hidden walkways, whimsical lakes and orchards – and peopled with crazies! What’s not to love? Daintily sipping tea and munching crumpets in the garden on white wrought iron tables with lace doilies…a blissful sunny afternoon which would suddenly be marred by the attack of a prize-winning pig, over whom Beach would trip, on his way to serve lemonade, his stiff upper lip suspended in horror. Lady Julia would calmly continue sipping her Earl Grey, as Lord Threepwood would wander about vaguely. I would take a walk by the lake before breakfast (anything is possible at Blandings!), and come upon clandestine meetings in the rose garden. When it would all get too much after some time, I would escape by the next train to London.
3. 22B Baker Street
Living AT the scene of the crime – it doesn’t get any better than this. Life would be limited to a crowded room, the most interesting one anyone has ever lived in. Every available space would be covered with books on subjects ranging from cocaine to calligraphy. The air would be thick with tobacco smoke, at the other end of which a tall scowling figure would be sprawled on the chair. Strains of the violin would occasionally drift in, as a vacant stocky man would look on admiringly. At times there would be strange-looking visitors and cryptic conversations. The same eyes bright in the throes of a puzzle or dulled beyond belief after a shot from the syringe.
Of course I would be existing as a beetle on the wall to be allowed even a peek into this sanctuary…but I would consider it a life well lived!
Much like the narrator in the book, sometimes I see Manderley. Not surprising, considering that it is a central character in the story, second only to Rebecca herself. The long driveway leading up to the house, the beautiful gardens with a hint of wilderness about them, the sinister boat house by the beach, the scene of so many bloodless crimes – the ‘morning room’, and of course Rebecca’s apartments. I can imagine walking down the gallery of portraits, awed and mesmerised, or running into a disapproving Mrs. Danvers in the vast dining room (I would put her in her place though, the big bully). There would be nothing light-hearted about my life…seemingly innocent actions would have sinister connotations, dinner with gilt-edged monogrammed cutlery would be stilted (Max was a lousy conversationalist anyway), and a walk on the beach would end up being more torture than leisure. But there would be so much beauty in the house and grounds that none of it would matter…I would throw open Rebecca’s apartments, do away with the drapes, and enjoy the view of the blue sea. I think while at it I would get rid of Max and his glum face too. But then it probably wouldn’t be Manderley without its ill-fated occupants.
“There was a land called the Old South”…and Tara epitomises what that old south stood for – but with a fire of it’s own. In one place in the book Scarlett regrets that Tara did not have the ‘stately charm of Twelve Oaks’, but that is what makes Tara stand out from the rest of the plantations of the south before the Civil War, and what kept it standing even after Sherman’s army marched through. The porch with its tall white columns, the rolling red hills, the smell of pork BBQ in the air, and the chatter of the slaves at sunset. I can imagine growing up there under Mammy’s eagle eye, breaking hearts and having my heart broken on the white steps of the porch, leaving to pursue other dreams, but returning to the red earth for survival. Killing a man to protect Tara, refusing to abandon it to the soldiers, doing anything and everything to pay the land taxes – and hating Ashley Wilkes (the supreme idiot) for not getting that! The book which made a strong impression on me as a kid, with it’s immortal message “because land is the only thing that lasts…the only thing worth fighting for, worth dying for”.