What's your favourite fictional house?May 24, 2016
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me."
- "Rebecca" (Daphne du Maurier, 1938)
The first two pages of "Rebecca" described the narrator's dream. She was in Manderley, uninhabited. It was a fascinating journey, even if the uncertainty could spell doom. Daphne du Maurier wrote so many words in that particular scene, which set the mood of the story. (It started with a promise of a happy end, only for the narrator to be cowered by the shadow of a dead woman.) Moreover, it was set in the English countryside. The gray sky and rainfall might be the reasons behind the uncanny tales. If the Londoner was living in Sydney, then it would be unlikely that she could imagine Manderley near Bondi. Not even a starless night would make Sydneysiders uncomfortable. (If it's a sighting of a shark, then it would be a different outcome. But it should be daytime.) This Gothic romance is a fine sample of how a fictional house can influence the story (and characters).
You don't need to study literature to be able to figure out the use of a fictional house. Think of your own home. It must be more than a residence, as you want a part of your persona to be seen in your abode. If you happen to be a teenager pursuing a BA English degree, then expect paperbacks (and hardbound) to be found in one corner of the room. Let's not forget the untidy bed. If you're a film enthusiast, then there will be movie posters. A music aficionado will have a collection of vinyl records, if not CDs. An author will think of such things, but a fictional house must have more interesting features. Let's have a few samples:
The Historian (2005) by Elizabeth Kostova. Readers will remember three different residences, set in three different times. A Medieval monastery in the Pyrenees, an underground library in Bulgaria built during the 18th century, a simple home in Amsterdam from the 1970s. The owners were scholars, and Vlad the Impaler happened to live in each place for some time. Kostova, who hails from Ljubljana, Slovenia, traces the vampire folklore in Europe. It defines the continent, which some readers will find it hard to believe. They only need to look at Bram Stoker's "Dracula". (It won't be the same if the dark castle wasn't located in Transylvania.) Don't get too close to the shadow.
Charlotte's Web (1952) by E.B. White. The barn may be the place for domesticated animals, but E.B. White saw something else. He could count the geese and sheep as among his (childhood) friends. His parents were worried, as he spent less quality time at his own home. But where can a country boy go? This charming novella also deals with the loss of innocence, which will catch older readers by surprise. They must remember that authors like this to find out the extent of their imagination.
221b Baker Street. If you're not a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, then you don't know who would live in that address. It was a representation of London during the 1800s, which would be remote from what Charles Dickens recalled of his younger years. But Sherlock Holmes would fascinate generations of readers. They want to see all the corners of his bachelor pad.
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