Now for four entrances and one escape-hatch. For a writer, a door is desirable because it shuts (one hopes) everyone out. As Alexander Pope wrote, ‘Shut, shut the door, good John! Fatigu’d I said,/Tie up the knocker, say I’m sick, I’m dead’ (Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot). For literary tourists, particular doors to particular writer’s houses have come to celebrate the idea of finding the writer ‘at home’, and more particularly the idea of being able to encounter the writer in person at home, whether alive, or indeed dead.
Dove Cottage, Grasmere
Originally a pub conjecturally called ‘The Dove’, Dove Cottage stood on the then high road along the lake of Grasmere. Rydal Mount, Wordsworth’s home in his latter years had been famous for many years; Dove Cottage became celebrated only after the poet’s death. It achieved tourist fame first through the journalism of Wordsworth’s admirer and subsequent lodger, Thomas De Quincey, who described his first visit in his Literary Reminiscences (1854) thus: ‘all at once we came, at an abrupt turn of the road, in sight of a white cottage, with two yew-trees breaking the glare of its white walls. A sudden shock seized me on recognising this cottage…. in less than a minute I should meet Wordsworth face to face.’
Haworth Parsonage, Haworth
The home of the Brontë sisters, which achieved identity and celebrity primarily through the description provided in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), published two years after the death of Charlotte. Gaskell’s opening gambit was to describe her first visit to Haworth, and this would model subsequent visitor experience. Gaskell described the home of the author of the scandalous Jane Eyre as particularly genteel and ladylike, and despite the Gothic edge to the cult of the Brontës, this image provided by the museum and used on their brochure still features a cat as guarantor of good housekeeping to the prospective guest coming up the path: ‘Everything about the place’ noted Gaskell, ‘tells of the most dainty order, the most exquisite cleanliness. The door-steps are spotless; the small old-fashioned window-panes glitter like looking-glass.’
Also on Haworth see http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/literarytourist/?p=136
17, Gough Square, London
Here’s the door to the Dr Johnson House in London, famous primarily as the place where Samuel Johnson laboured over ten years in the garret to produce his Dictionary. Outside, in the square itself, there is a statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge, installed in 1997. I love this picture, because it correctly identifies the point of this statue. Gazing at the front door seemingly in hopes to be let in, it indicates the door as worthy of note to passers-by, imagines the Doctor into a comforting domesticity. Cats had long been associated with intellectuals (see my upcoming post on Petrarch’s cat) in part because they kept down mice who were inclined to chew up scholarly papers.
Also on Johnson see http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/literarytourist/?p=190
Farmhouse room, Ile St Pierre, Switzerland
I took this image in the set of rooms in which the philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau stayed for a summer in 1765 having been forced out of his previous home (see my earlier blog http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/literarytourist/?p=162 ). He gives a famous account of it in his Reveries of a Solitary Walker (1782): ‘I wanted them to make this refuge a perpetual prison for me…to forbid me any kind of communication with the mainland so that being unaware of all that went on in the world I might forget its existence and…it might also forget mine.’ Rousseau was not however forgotten, and would escape unwanted celebrity-hounds by slipping through this trapdoor; after his death these rooms became extremely famous, attracting the likes of Napoleon amongst many others.