What turns a great novel into a classic? Is it the mesmeric prose? The incredible characterisation? The outré plot twists? Or is it the dramatic settings that appear to materialise before us as we swipe the page?
The answer is probably all of the above, but today we’re interested in one literary attribute only – the setting. From Jay Gatsby’s decadent mansion to 221B Baker Street – an address that needs no citation – our favourite fiction is filled with fantastical places. These homes may be make-believe, but their counterparts are made from real bricks and mortar. What’s more, you don’t have to be a Long Island playboy or a famous detective to visit them.
Last month we visited the world of children’s literature; now it’s the grownups’ turn to be regaled. Are you ready to reminisce?
1. A windswept farmhouse like Wuthering Heights
First the name was synonymous with a great novel; later a great Kate Bush song. Let’s not forget that it’s also the name of the farmhouse in Emily Brontë’s tale of jealousy and gender inequality. Dark and desolate, Wuthering Heights mirrored the inner turmoil of its troubled owner, Heathcliff.
Situated near Haworth in West Yorkshire, this barn cottage occupies prime Wuthering Heights territory. Close by lies the remains of Top Withens, a farmhouse whose remote and windswept location is believed to have been the inspiration for Healthcliff’s home.
Wuthering Heights bestowed fame and acclaim upon Emily Brontë, but it came too late for the novelist to enjoy the fruits of her labours. Within a year of publication, the virtuoso died at 30.Learn more about True Well Hall
2. Revel in the hedonism of Gatsby
Image: TV screenshot
Jay Gatsby knew how to throw a party, as anyone who saw Baz Luhrmann’s movie will attest. Were the swinging ’20s really all-out decadence and Bacchanalian excess? Probably not, but for all its sins, the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby perfectly mirrored the spirit of those times and these. The may less finesse nowadays, but the great, the good and the filthy rich party just as hard.
If you’re intent on living like Jay Gatsby, all you need is a big bunch of money and a big bunch of friends; if you can find the former, the latter should take care of itself. The most decadent mansion we can muster isn’t even in America – it’s in South Africa, where it proudly occupies the title of SA’s most expensive residence ever built. Closer to Long Island, this Hamptons estate can best be described in three words: lush, lush, lush.Learn more about Enigma Mansion
3. The strange house of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
In Victorian London, a respectable-looking house occupies a quiet street. Welcome to the home of Dr Jekyll. From the front, it’s indistinguishable from any other property on the leafy street. Out the back, however, all propriety goes out the window, for lurking in the rear is a laboratory and, within that, a creature too hideous for words.
We all have days when we feel like Dr Jekyll and others when we wake up a raging Mr Hyde. This historic London home may be lacking a lab, but it offers a secluded rear garden where no one can judge you. The oak-panelled drawing room is ideal for entertaining guests, but don’t let them stray into the rear of the house. We all have secrets to hide.Learn more about Egmont Lodge
4. Follow Rebecca to Manderley
They don’t write novels like Rebecca any more and they don’t conjure characters like Maxim de Winter. Nor do they name novelists as fabulously as Daphne du Maurier, whose fiction had a habit of getting the big screen treatment from Alfred Hitchcock. The Birds was their most famous collaboration, but Rebecca remains du Maurier’s greatest work.
At the heart of the novel is Manderley, a gloomy country estate that’s filled with heirlooms and neglect. This sprawling country house has more than a dash of Manderley to it, right down to the 350-yard driveway that ensures it’s hidden from the road. Look out for those “mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and terrace” that were so memorably conjured in Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic romance.
Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley againLearn more about Pekes Manor House
5. Brush up on your etiquette at Longbourn
With 20 million copies sold, it would be fair to declare Jane Austen’s 1813 novel a runaway success. Why does a story about 19th century gentry and social manners still hold so much appeal? Perhaps it’s the rich characterisation, including the irrepressible Mr Darcy and the witty Elizabeth Bennet.
To dramatise Pride and Prejudice, filmmakers have had to conjure a fitting setting for Longbourn, the residence of the Bennets. As a facsimile of the Bennet estate, Blakedown Hall is perfect. This stately home, set in 132 acres, is a Grade II listed Queen Anne residence with space for 43 guests. Perhaps a little excessive for a family break, but as a wedding venue it would be superb. For added authenticity, don period costume and enact your very own Jane Austen weekend. The Bennets probably didn’t have an indoor pool in their manor, but we trust you’ll be able to live with that.Learn more about Blakedown Hall
6. Rule the roost at Northanger Abbey
It’s time to visit Northanger Abbey, because you can never have too much Jane Austen. Completed in the final months of the eighteenth century, Susan, as it was then called, was Austen’s first novel. However, it languished for years before being published as Northanger Abbey after her death in 1817.
Every grand fictional home has a wing that must never be entered; in Northanger Abbey, a suite of rooms that were Mrs Tilney’s are strictly off limits. Woolshaw Castle makes for a convincing Northanger Abbey; its interior may now be plush and modern, but mystery and intrigue are still close at hand. All it takes is an active imagination and a willingness to explore.Learn more about Woolshaw Castle
7. Live like Hardy underneath the thatch
Thomas Hardy’s cottage in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, is a cosy, thatched affair where the author lived until the age of 34. Under its eaves, some of his greatest works were written including Far from the Madding Crowd. Today it’s a National Trust building that fans of the author flock to in search of nostalgia and inspiration. You can’t stay in Hardy’s cottage, but you can live close by in one just like it: Vine Cottage is a Grade II listed thatched cottage that oozes charm and character. It’s just 200 metres from the golden sands of Studland Bay and is as quaint as it is comfy.
While you’re visiting Hardy’s cottage, it should be noted that it didn’t just serve as the base from which he wrote his novels – it also inspired them. Tranter Dewy’s house in Under the Greenwood Tree is based on Hardy’s Higher Bockhampton home.Learn more about Vine Cottage
8. Flee the madding crowd and retreat to the farm
At the last count, Bathsheba had over 9,000 suitors in Hardy’s classic novel including William Boldwood. The wealthy landowner and Wessex farmer was doing just fine until Bathsheba sent him a Valentine’s card for the lulz and consequences were never the same. Boldwood fell for her in a big way but she repeatedly refused his marriage entreaties and, for the handsome farmer, it all ended in murder and madness. If there’s one lesson to take from the novel, it’s don’t open Valentine’s cards from strangers.
As for the farm where Boldwood plied his trade, in chapter 18 of Far from the Madding Crowd we read: “His house stood recessed from the road, and the stables, which are to a farm what a fireplace is to a room, were behind, their lower portions being lost amid bushes of laurel. Inside the blue door, open half-way down, were to be seen at this time the backs and tails of half-a-dozen warm and contented horses standing in their stalls; and as thus viewed, they presented alternations of roan and bay, in shapes like a Moorish arch, the tail being a streak down the midst of each.”
Set among the beech trees, Burnville Farmhouse is a delightful farm cottage that lies in a shallow stream-valley with exquisite views of the Dartmoor hills. The working farm is home to sheep, cattle, ponies, pigs, chickens and ornamental pheasants. You’re free to wander where you please, far from the madding crowds. There’s even a swimming pool tucked out the back, where the only sound to be heard is the birds chirping in the trees. This is the definition of bucolic bliss.Learn more about Burnville Farmhouse
You’re free to wander where you please, far from the madding crowds.
9. Evoke the spirit of Bathsheba Everdene
Waterston Manor near Puddletown in Dorset is regarded as the Wetherbury Farm depicted in Far from the Madding Crowd. Bathsheba Everdene, our tortured heroine, inherits the property from her uncle and soon hires Gabriel Oak to tend the farm.
The Old Manor in Dorset bears more than a passing resemblance to Waterston Manor and is set in gorgeous countryside. Oh for the days when farmers could expect to inherit buildings of this grandeur – and then use them for farming.Learn more about The Old Manor
10. Soothe your sensibilities at Barton Park
In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Barton Park was the home of Sor John and Lady Middleton. In chapter seven we read: “Barton Park was about half a mile from the cottage. The ladies had passed near it in their way along the valley, but it was screened from their view at home by the projection of an hill. The house was large and handsome; and the Middletons lived in a style of equal hospitality and elegance.”
The real life inspiration for Barton Park is considered to be Pynes, a red brick manor house outside Exeter; Austen may have visited it while holidaying in Devon at the start of the 19th century. Your own sensibilities should be satisfied by the prospect of lounging in Baldon House, an equally majestic manor that dates to the 18th century. Seven bedrooms include a Georgian master suit with views across the countryside and a walled garden where you can play croquet.Learn more about Baldon House
11. Choose a Baker Street home fit for Holmes
221B Baker Street might just be the most famous literary home of all. In fiction, it was the residence of the world’s greatest detective, while in real life it’s a museum dedicated to…that’s right, the world’s greatest fictional detective.
Explore the world of Sherlock Holmes from the comfort of this very cosy and very British townhouse. It’s just a short stroll from Baker Street and lies on a quiet street with central London on your doorstep. Where would you like to go?Learn more about this townhouse
12. Summon your inner Brontë at Thornfield Hall
We’ve covered Emily Brontë’s magnum opus; now it’s time for sister Charlotte’s. How better to round off this article than with a home that accords to all the laws of English fiction – a large estate with a manor full of foreboding unused rooms?
Most of the action in Jane Eyre takes place in Thornfield Hall, the home of Edward Rochester. The remote mansion’s gloomy interior matches the mood of its resident, naturally, but the grounds play host to many happier scenes. If there’s one thing we can learn from 19th century literature it’s that the secret of happiness is to sell your gloomy dilapidated home and move into a small cottage. Still, if you’re just spending a week in a manor house, you should be able to escape with your happiness and soul intact. Try the sprawling Himley Manor for size. Nine bedrooms, five bathrooms, a grandiose arched internal courtyard a dining room whose walls are embellished by intricate trompe l’oeil wood panelling. That’ll do nicely.Learn more about Himley Manor
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Bring your favourite stories to life in a thatched cottage, townhouse or mansionClick for inspiration
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