The Problem with Writers’ Houses

Shakespeare's House, Stratford-on-Avon, from the Hume Photograph Collection, University of Queensland

Shakespeare's House, Stratford-on-Avon, from the Hume Photograph Collection, University of Queensland

Have you ever visited the house of a favourite writer? By which we don’t mean a favourite writer who’s still living in the house, who happens to be a friend or a partner or a lover or even a housemate. We mean one of those houses of a now-dead writer, a famous writer whose abode one way or another has been transformed into a museum, like the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Vermont, the Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris or Shakespeare’s various residences. If you’re anything like April Bernard at the New York Review blog you enter the famous writer’s house and think to yourself, Why am I here?

“Here’s what I hate about Writers’ Houses: the basic mistakes. That art can be understood by examining the chewed pencils of the writer. That visiting such a house can substitute for reading the work. That real estate, including our own envious attachments to houses that are better, or cuter, or more inspiring than our own, is a worthy preoccupation. That writers can or should be sanctified. That private life, even of the dead, is ours to plunder. ”

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