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On the Crumbling Manor House
What is it that fascinates us about the crumbling manor house? Is it Schadenfreude? The air of genteel mystery? I personally can’t get enough of the ‘crumbling manor house’ trope. I’ve written before about my ultimate childhood favorite books, and The Secret Garden topped the list. My ultimate favorite non-childhood story is ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’ I’ve made a number of visits to The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, which was, of course, the site of another great work of dilapidated mansion literature. In fact, I’m currently re-reading this one.
I enjoyed reading The Guynd recently on the recommendation of Sarah over at Fewer & Better. It’s a memoir of the writer’s life in a Scottish manor house during the 1990s. I’m sure it’s a book I’ll go back to again.
In the series, the Hughes estate is certainly not crumbling, heaven (and Mimmy) forbid. The earlier Hughes estate in The Dream Kingdom certainly was. It marks the first crumbling manor house of the series and therefore the first book with all the New England Gothic vibes I’ve come to crave.
Later in the series, the NE Gothic goes full throttle with an excellent semi-abandoned family home that I have chosen to visit in three separate books (Books 9, 13, and 14). It’s just that good. I can’t draw, and I’ve drawn a map of the grounds. Why do I feel a fake house in a part of Marblehead that isn’t even real deserves almost 300,000 words? That’s the thing, isn’t it? Why do any of the faded-belle houses we find in literature grab our imaginations?
I don’t entirely know. That sounds more like a great dissertation topic for someone than a blog post. We’re naturally curious as human beings and drawn to mystery. My personal aesthetic skews heavily manor house, and I’m hardly alone. Personally, I like the way these stories subvert the home's traditional role as a place of comfort and twist it into a dark and foreboding repository of secrets. My favorite examples of the genre are those that give the house a semblance of sentience or at least some personality traits.
The best-designed houses are of course the ones that are reflective of the owners’ personality, but that’s meant to make the home more comfortable. I think for me, the fascination comes in when the home reflects a distinctly uncomfortable personality - our homes convey our personal characteristics better than any written description. We love to scroll Instagram and glut ourselves on picture-perfect homes, but nothing grabs our attention so much as the sinister, the mysterious, and the imperfect.
Favorite Manor House Lit: Fiction The Secret Garden The House of the Seven Gables Wuthering Heights 'The Fall of the House of Usher' Jane Eyre Northanger Abbey
Nonfiction The Guynd The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House 1918-1939