Jane Austen Has Left the Building

Jane Austen Has Left the Building
AP Photo/Alina Hartounian

Gaston Bachelard, whom Christina Hardyment cites at the opening of this agreeable book, once suggested that we might start a new form of psychiatric study based on the uses of houses as our memory banks. “All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams,” Bachelard wrote in “The Poetics of Space.” Hardyment’s gentle challenge has been to identify and investigate the way a score of intensely recalled dwelling places have been transformed by their imaginative inhabitants into some of the best-loved — or feared — locations in Western literature.

Starting with “The Castle of Otranto,” published in 1764, Hardyment reminds us that Horace Walpole wrote England’s “first (and funniest)” Gothic novel in private celebration of his own miniature castle on the banks of the Thames. Walpole would have wept to know that the treasures with which he lovingly filled Strawberry Hill — his privately published inventory of the house’s contents was the equivalent of a love letter — would one day be sold, in an auction that spread over an entire month, by a profligate descendant.

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