It was Leo Tolstoy whose Yasnaya Polyana residence and retreat located outside Moscow was classified by him as his 'inaccessible literary stronghold.' He was born and buried there and the locale provided him every sustenance to produce War and Peace and Anna Karenina. This sylvan hide-away I have visited in the early 1980s. Often opting for edges of perceived 'nowhere' but inevitably 'somewhere' - great writers cited in Literary Lodgings sought tranquil retreats. Untouched natural surroundings for seclusion; unspoiled beauty, rolling hills, sandy or pebble-carpeted beaches, dramatic shore-lines, cliff-hugging coastal-lines, verdant landscape and breezy seascapes were frequent destinations. Moving away from London, we come across Jane Austen (1775-1817) staying at the former Bull, now the Royal Victoria and Bull in Dartford, Kent. It used to be a coaching inn where she spent many a night en route to visit her brother. Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) the creator of the world's most acclaimed detective Sherlock Holmes had his more or less permanent address never at 221B Baker Street but 'Undershaw' in Hindhead, Surrey. Today it exists as Undershaw Hotel and on its gates are the initials 'ACD.' Borish's opening line: "Would John Keats have finished his long Endymion if he had not secluded himself in a hotel at the foot of Box Hill?" Endymion? I raked my memory yet utter blankness. Until I advanced in my reading: "Endymion, with its familiar first line, 'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.' How could I have forgotten? Keats finished the four thousand line poem at the age of twenty-two at the Burford Bridge Hotel, Surrey; then known as The Fox and Hounds. This true poet died of tuberculosis in Rome. He was twenty-five. The oldest hotel in Brighton, Sussex - The Old Ship Hotel opened its doors in the sixteenth century. William Makepeace Thackeray occupied Room 242. Today's Thackeray Room is where the author often sought recreation and creation; resulting in the nineteenth century classic commentary 'Vanity Fair.' Talland House was the Cornwall coastal holiday home of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). It is now known as Talland House Holiday Flats. The Waves "is a poetic novel...Its poetry comes from the powerful images taken from the world she loved: the ocean with its waves, the sky full of birds, driftwood on the shore, cliffs, house and garden - the world of St. Ives and Talland House."
'Incurable Wanderers' were numerous writers whose poor health; often frail from tuberculosis or typhoid kept them on the move escaping Britain's damp climate whilst seeking more salubrious climes; often in Europe. Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), an incurable invalid spent tortuous two years at the renamed Hotel Regina in the seaside town Torquay in Devon. "In 'The Cry of the Human', one of the short poems written at Torquay, she speaks of the 'tempest...the plague...the curse...the corpse...terrors." Following her elopement with Robert Browning to Florence, there she recovered, had a child and lived to the then ripe age of fifty-five.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) may well have had the last word by having his character in The Millionairess remark: 'Well, what more could anyone ask but a nice hotel? All the housekeeping done for us: no trouble with the servants: no rates nor taxes. I have never had any peace except in a hotel...This is what home ought to be, though it's only a hotel.' The Victoria Hotel in Sidmouth also in Devon opened its doors to guests in 1904. Shaw and his wife Charlotte stayed on and off at the Edwardian hotel in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Borish's account includes an eighteen-hole putting green.
Every abode has its own tale to tell. Yet all speak the same language. The author pertinently writes: "Then an adventure in reading could effectively combine with an adventure in living." As I reluctantly headed towards the payment counter with my sole purchase, a hard back cover book of 245 pages in mint condition; I remarked to the volunteer - what a spectacular collection and what an absorbing browsing experience it has been for a timely traveller to Toronto. And how much I regretted only permitting myself a single indulgence due to suitcase weight limitation! She asked me where I was coming from and expressed utmost surprise to find a bargain book buyer all the way from Bangladesh.
And here I was once again at the premises of the 43rd Annual Book Sale at the Trinity College in the autumn of 2018. This time I upped my purchases to four books for the grand sum of CA$ 14.
1. Days and Nights in Calcutta by Clark Blaise and Bharati Muikherjee (1987) explores the couple's year (1973) in Bombay and Calcutta as the American Clark and West Bengali Bharati discover/re-discover India and evolve in their respective culture shock, insights and experiences.
2. Without a Guide: Contemporary Women's Travel Adventures edited by Katherine Govier (1994). Here is a collection of seventeen nonfiction works that explores the variety and nature of contemporary women travellers; including Margaret Atwood and Bapsi Sidhwa.
3. Literary Houses: Ten Famous Houses in Fiction by Rosalind Ashe (1982) is a guided tour of ten of literature's most famous houses brought to life in detailed illustrations and text. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier offers us 'Manderley.' The House of the Seven Gable by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald are other literary edifice entries.
4. Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster (1993) is a biography of the woman behind the author of 'Rebecca'. Forster explores the inner tensions "sometimes the dividing line between fantasy and reality was dangerously thin" of one of the most popular story-tellers of the twentieth century.
5. Staying On by Paul Scott (1977), Winner of the 1977 Booker Prize. Staying On remains the epilogue to his signature Raj Quartet. This find is particularly timely since only this summer 2018, I bought Paul Scott: A Life by Hilary Spurling (1991) for 2 Pounds at this quirky second-hand book store in Rottingdean, an idyllic village near Brighton on the southern coast of England.
Raana Haider is a literary pilgrim.