The Meaning of Home: Houses From Great Works of Literature


Home: it's the street you're on, it's your perch in the apple tree, it's tall maple you planted when you were this high, it's your favorite hiding spot to smoke when you're a teenager - its all these things and more. But fundamentally it comes down to the house. Mine was a big creaky hundred year old white house with a wrap around porch, dormers, crawl areas, maple floors, a fireplace that didn't pass code, a finicky water softener, and even a closed off section that we never got around to renovating.

Literary houses, if under the care of an expert pen, can come alive just as much as our own treasured abode. Here are some of my favorite passages about fictional homes:

Maurice(E.M. Forster):
...Penge [Maurice's ex-lover's English estate], instead of numbing, seemed more stimulating than most places. How vivid, if complex, were its impressions, how the tangle of flowers and fruit wreathed his brain!...he sprang up and flung wide the curtains with a cry of 'Come!'
The Great Gatsby(F. Scott Fitzgerald):
A wafer of a moon was shining over Gatsby's hosue, making the night fine as before, and surviving the laughter and the sound of his still glowing garden. A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell.
Jane Eyre(Charlotte Bronte):
I would have got past Mr. Rochester's chamber without a pause; but my heart momentarily stopping its beat at that threshold, my foots was forced to stop also. No sleep was there: the inmate was walking restlessly from wall to wall; and again and again he sighed while I listened. There was a heaven - a temporary heaven - in this room for me, if I chose...My hand moved towards the lock: I caught it back, and glided on.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll):
Alice opened the door and found it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat hole: she knelt down and lookied along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander out among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway...
Giovanni's Room(James Baldwin):
But it was not the room's disorder which was frightening; it was the fact that when one began searching for the key to this disorder, one realized that it was not to be found in any of the usual places. For this was not a matter of habit or circumstance or temperament; it was a matter of punishment and grief.
Emma (Jane Austen):
What totally different feelings did Emma take back into the house from what she had brought out! - she had then been only daring to hope for a little respite of suffering; - she was now in an exquisitve flutter of happiness, and such happiness moreover as she believed must still be greater when the flutter shuld have pased away.
They sat down to tea...and how often had her eyes fallen on the same shrubs in the lawn, and observed the same beautiful effect of the western sun! - But never in such a state of spirits, never in anything like it; and it was with difficulty that she coud summon enough of her usual self to be the attentive lady of the house, or even the attentive daughter.
Afterword: Home can be a source of shame, a refuge, a container for great affection, a barrier to achieving our dreams or a symbol of significant loss. Whatever it is to us, home is often much more than four walls and a bed. I hope yours brings you happiness!

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