Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for September 3rd, 2017

Writers’ Houses

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd September, 2017

Lamb HouseYesterday I was at the Mermaid Inn in Rye in Sussex to address the annual gathering of The Friends of Tilling, one of two societies that celebrate the work of E.F. Benson and in particular the Mapp and Lucia novels. It was a gorgeous late summer’s day — the perfect weather to visit nearby Lamb House after my talk. A National Trust property that is only open to visitors a few afternoons a week (and is otherwise lived in by lucky tenants), Lamb House was Fred Benson’s home for many years and appears as Mallards in his Tilling (Rye) novels. So it is a regular place of pilgrimage for Benson fans. Yet it is much more redolent of the legacy of an earlier inhabitant, Henry James. The house is early 18th century, but many of the artefacts date from James’s time there and I could really feel his presence, especially in the garden, strangely. Sitting out there in a quiet spot, all  alone, in the late afternoon sun, I totally understood why someone could write in Lamb House. Benson and James were not the only literary inhabitants who found inspiration living there; Rumer Godden was another.

Hemingway house CubaAs I know myself, the place in which one writes can be all important. Some people can compose in cafés or modern-day coffee shops, whereas for me it has to be a particular house or room where I can focus totally on what I’m writing. And I do believe that some sort of special atmosphere is created in a place where a writer has been at work over a long period. Sensing Henry James at Lamb House was not the first inkling of that kind; I felt it strongly at Ernest Hemingway’s house in Cuba. That was in much less pristine condition than beautifully maintained Lamb House, though I understood it has been spruced up since my visit. It remains chock-a-bloc with Papa Hemingway’s books and other possessions. At the time I went, one was not allowed inside, but could look in through open windows, which gave the whole experience a slightly surreal quality. The rainwater in the swimming pool was green with algae and there were weeds around, but so to was the ghost of the writer and the aura of his creative energy.

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