Being able to peek in what usually is the most private space for a writer — his/her den, the place that is meant to contribute to the summoning of inspiration and creativity — is simply invaluable. I am amazed that so many writers’ rooms have been preserved so well. Do browse them, and read the accompanying text, which often not also explains the view in the photos, but also talks about some quirks and habits of the writer in question that you may not know.
I must admit that some rooms were somehow predictable for me: thinking about Rudyard Kipling, I kind of imagined that his writing place would look like this; same goes for Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Brontë, and Charles Darwin. On the other hand I was surprised by the sparseness of George Bernard Shaw’s spartan place; as the text itself aptly notes:
This was a strange place for a red-bearded socialist, with large ideas of how to change the world, to land up. But somehow it suited Shaw. He was, after all, a master of paradox — and besides, what all writers need, even the most public figures among them, is privacy while they are writing. “People bother me,” Shaw confessed. “I came here to hide from them.” From this modest hideout, he could bother people without interruption.
I was also fascinated during my ‘visit’ to Roald Dahl’s den. I love his stories and imagined his need for absolute privacy, yet his room is completely different from the idea I’ve had of him. Reading the description of his room, I loved this bit, which I find touching somehow:
The table near to his right hand had all kinds of strange memorabilia on it, one of which was part of his own hip bone that had been removed; another was a ball of silver paper that he’d collected from bars of chocolate since he was a young man and it had gradually increased in size. There were various other things that had been sent to him by fans or schoolchildren.
The writing place that struck me most for its minimalism, however, has to be Jane Austen’s ‘desk’, her ‘little bit of ivory’:
From this table the revised manuscripts of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice went to London to be published in 1811 and 1813. From this table too came Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. Here she noted down the encouraging comments of neighbours — Mrs Bramston of Oakley Hall, who thought S&S and P&P “downright nonsense”, and “dear Mrs Digweed” who volunteered that “if she had not known the author, she could hardly have got through Emma”.
Austen died in 1817, and after Cassandra’s death in 1845 the table was given to a manservant. Today, back in its old home, it speaks to every visitor of the modesty of genius.
The series features also a lot of rooms of contemporary writers, which are equally interesting to look at — you invariably get to know more about the room and the writers themselves.