Our eternal obsession with literary property

The writer is the author of fiction books, cookbooks, and poetry anthologies. to her The latest book isAnd all will be glad to see you

There are many reasons why someone would want to hold on to a luxury home for a permanent rent of £5 a week. But it takes a certain kind of person to explain that – far from being just about money – it’s about art. The present occupants of Evelyn Waugh’s former home at Peers Court, who pay £250 a year, claim to be the author’s “super admirers”, friends of the family and, in some ways, custodians of his legacy.

Piers Court “appears to require a lot of living,” Waugh wrote in his diary, undeniably: eight bedrooms, six bathrooms and a price tag of £3.16m. Potential buyers had to bid unseen, because seated tenants who paid rent for a peppercorn refused any viewings before the auction.

However, it’s hard to ignore that tenants have a point. If it was all about the money, the rest of us wouldn’t care. Bankruptcies, ongoing rents, and disputes are always part of the real estate equation. But we are interested in selling Piers Court Because Woo lived there. Literary houses hot ticket. The Financial Times listed five notable characteristics this summer, including Hogarth House—home of Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—and a 1920s mansion, complete with pool house, on the site of Mark Twain’s country mound. Even the childhood homes of authors like Dorothy Sayers are getting attention, selling for £2.35m.

For those without two or three million, the apartment that once housed part of Jane Austen’s home in Bath is now on Airbnb, offering luxury soaps. Rudyard Kipling’s mansion on the South Coast, also on Airbnb, has a new and improved hot tub.

For Hitchhiker’s Guide fans, half of the homes for sale in Islington have literary fame: the local estate agent, Hotblack Desiato, is named after Douglas Adams’ intergalactic rock star. Copied from Richard Adams’s best-selling bizarre allegorical book The water is slipping Delivered to the buyer of the upmarket new complex on the edge of the author’s birthplace in Berkshire. The development is, of course, called Watership Place and is accessed via Richard Adams Way.

In an age when we so often try to separate the art from the artist, why should we care where authors wrote their landmark works? Maybe it’s the fame factor: Something notable happened here, which is what makes it I Known to own (or, in the case of the Piers Court tenants, live in) it. However it appears to be something more than that. It’s a magical thing: an alchemy between authors we love, even after they’re dead, and the lives they lived, and the work they took out of that life.

There is an undeniable human excitement that comes from things that great artists have really touched, really used, really seen. It makes these authors real to us. Which makes their characters doubly real. It is as if the physical reality of their homes gives way to their words, and the two of them together make something greater than the sum of their parts. Authors and their properties become characters and settings in the stories we tell ourselves about art, what it means, and how we make it.

After Sylvia Plath moved out of the family home after an affair with Ted Hughes, she rented her personal dream home: 23 Fitzroy Street. “It’s W.B. Yeats’ house,” she wrote, “with a blue plaque above the door saying he lives there.” However, her blue painting, revealed many years later by her daughter, is at 3 Chalcot Square in Primrose Hill. “My mother died [in Fitzroy Road]Freda Hughes said. “but she Live Here.” And as I stand outside those two houses I feel the same spark. The author was here. There was something of the art here. The magic was here, even for a little while, and if I stood here long enough, perhaps a few would land on me.

And if not? All is not lost: that blue plaque adds – according to a study from the University of Leeds – a full 27 per cent to the price of any property it touches. Money and art seem to go hand in hand.

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