After some interiors inspo? Hoping to write a novel? Simply a person who likes looking inside other people's houses? We are here to satisfy with photographic insight into the abodes of some of literature's greatest writers.
When this photo was taken, more than a decade had passed since Ralph Ellison made a splash with his debut, The Invisible Man. Ellison had also moved out of one of the more extraordinary literary shared homes. In the late Fifties he had shared the sprawling and decrepit mansion inhabited by writer Saul Bellow, after Bellow’s wife had seen sense and evacuated it. As Bellow later recalled in the LA Times: ‘The ballroom now became Ralph’s studio. It ran the entire length of the house. He set up his typewriter and his desk and we found a bookcase for his manuscripts.
In the ballroom Ralph kept African violets which he watered with a turkey baster. It was from him that I learned all that I know about houseplants.’
Much fuss is made of Ernest Hemingway’s home in Florida, where he lived for most of the Thirties with a coterie of six-toed cats. But this was taken rather later, in 1950, and at his home in Cuba, which he had originally bought a decade earlier because his wife at the time Pauline didn’t want to stay in a hotel during a trip to Havana. He wrote a couple of his best works here, including For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
The Slaughterhouse 5 author lived 228 East 48th St, just off Manhattan’s 3rd Avenue, for more than 40 years. Born in Indiana, Vonnegut said he ‘went ot New York City to be born again’. He chose well: Charlotte’s Web creator E.B White lived on the same block with his daschund, Fred. It’s fitting that Vonnegut is seen smoking in this photograph; it’s something he did plenty, and with peril. In 1977 the author was taken to hospital after setting the place on fire. Fire marshals put the cause down to ‘careless smoking’, telling the New York Times: ‘He may have been smoking in the room, left it, and then the blaze started’.
Much of Morrison’s work was written at home – on the kitchen worktop between making breakfast for her two sons, for instance, and in other snatched moments while the single mother juggled her burgeoning literary career with a 9-5 and raising a family. Her forever home was in upstate New York, next to the Hudson River, where her writing desk looked over the glistening water at dawn, her preferred writing time. It was at the private dock that she had built there after a fire burned the place down, in 1993, that Morrison said she saw the ghost that inspired Beloved.
Photographed here in Paris in the Seventies, it was being in that very city 20 years earlier that had galvanised the essayist and author’s life and career. Sontag was 24 when she first moved to the French capital, leaving her five-year-old son and husband (her former teacher whom she had married 10 days after meeting) in America. There, she somewhat defined the ‘American in Paris’ experience: living around the corner from Allen Ginsberg, embarking upon a fiery lesbian affair, watching films all day, reading when she wasn’t, and thoroughly committing herself to the city’s café culture. It also became her resting place: when she left no instructions for her burial, Sontag’s son decided Paris the most fitting location.
The most famous home of Truman Capote is the one in the Hamptons in New York, hidden behind a wall of hydrangeas and privet. The photos linger of it even in today’s online age: spiral staircases and soaring ceilings propped up by bookshelves, animal skin rugs and chairs in which to drink and lounge. But Capote didn’t move there until 1962, when the house he had built to his specifications was completed. This photograph was taken some 16 years earlier, when Capote was just 22 – but nevertheless precocious and talented enough to make it into Vogue, both pictorially, and with his short stories.
Most interviews with Haruki Murakami are a kind of charmed exercise in frustration, in which Murakami maintains his delightful ordinariness, and the interviewer tries to needle out something befitting a writer of his extraordinary talent. Thus, there are little details about his home. But of Murakami’s routine we have gleaned something: he likes to have cats, cooking and music around. He opens the windows to get fresh air. And he sticks to a rigid schedule: rising at 4am, writing 10 pages (work that takes five or six hours), running for six miles, sometimes followed by a swim. No wonder, as he has admitted, he gets tired.
Mark Twain’s Connecticut home – the famous redbrick one, memorialised in his biography as ‘part steamboat, part medieval fortress and part cuckoo clock’ – was evacuated by the writer 15 years before this photo was taken. Twain moved to Manhattan, instead, where his later years passed in a fug of grief and gloom. Enthusiasts might know of his writing routine (sizeable breakfast, study, eventual appearance at dinner time; family interruptions to be made by the means of tooting a horn, only), but hardcore fans will know that the Huckleberry Finn writer also wrote in bed, as pictured here. He so loved his bed, in fact, that he set up this photoshoot to accompany an interview he gave. Twain also slept in it backwards, to better admire the carved angels on its headboard.
Originally from Georgia, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author moved to San Francisco in the Seventies, which also marked the beginning of her publishing career. By the time this portrait was taken, she was riding high on the success of her third novel, The Colour Purple, which was published in 1982 and given the Spielberg treatment by 1985. It would take another decade for her to discover her forever home, a total wreck in the Berkeley Hills that she would spend years bringing back to life. Of seeing it, she recalls: ‘I saw this wonderful park down below with a pool and tennis court and a space to walk the dogs. That was it. I said, “I can write down here. Sold.”’
Charles Dickens may have made a name for himself by documenting Victorian London better than anyone else, but, like many people who live and work in the city, he didn’t come from there. If anything, Dickens’ early life was rather more like that of Pip in Great Expectations: small, poor and based in Kent. As a boy, he nurtured a love of Gad’s Hill Place, an elegant Georgian house in Higham. So, when he found success and fortune (so Dickensian!) in his Forties, he bought the place, turning it into a ‘sanctuary that he came home to’.
It should be noted this wasn’t Dickens’ only house, he also had an 18-room mansion in Bloomsbury, in which he installed all the mod-cons, including the then-revelatory ‘Shower-Bath’. Dickens was a fastidious – and frequent – bather, to the extent that he increased the size of the cistern by 100 gallons to keep up with his routine.
Rowan Oak, the grand Grecian-inspired pile in Oxford, Mississippi, that is now known as William Faulkner House, was originally a crumbling pile. We’re not sure what it is about Pulitzer Prize-winners and doer-uppers (see Alice Walker), but Faulkner moved his family into the place in 1930 and proceeded to do a Grand Designs on it. He was so dedicated to the project he quit his job to take it on, giving over his afternoons and evenings once he'd spent the morning writing in the library. The jewel in the eventual crown? The outline of the cover of A Fable muralled onto the wall of his study.
George Bernard Shaw
The room pictured here no longer exists, but nevertheless left a lasting architectural and cultural impact on London. George Bernard Shaw and his wife Charlotte lived here – an imposing run of connected houses - from the end of the 19th century, once they had been married. It was a considerable upgrade for Shaw, whose previous environs in Fitzroy Square did not impress Charlotte.
She seems to have compelled him to tidy up a bit, given that he was known for working ‘in a perpetual state of dirt and disorder’, surrounded by ‘heaps of letters, pages of manuscripts, books, envelopes, writing paper, pens… butter, sugar, apples, knives, forks, spoons, sometimes a cup of cocoa or a half-finished plate of porridge, a saucepan and a dozen other things… and all undusted, as his papers must not be touched.’
The Adelphi, where this was taken, was pulled down in 1935 and replaced with an Art Deco building.
Ursula K. Le Guin
The beloved fantasy author lived in her fittingly eccentric home in Portland, Oregon, for more than 50 years and died there, aged 88, in 2018. To get there, one would encounter thorny roses at the door, which had a lion’s-head knocker, which opened to unveil a hall lined with reproductions of the famous Lewis chessmen and a panelled living room. Le Guin kept most of her many trophies and awards in the attic, but her first ever Hugo sat in a hallway en route to the kitchen. Every evening, she would sit on the back porch and enjoy a drink before dinner with her husband, while they read to one another.
Simon de Beauvoir
Could there be a more quintessentially Parisian author that Simone de Beauvoir? Born in the 6th arrondissement, buried next to her long-term lover Jean-Paul Sartre in the Montparnasse cemetery, De Beauvoir spent much of her life in the city. While she lived in several apartments, they had several things in common: an abundance of paper, books and photographs intellectually cluttered her homes. She wrote longhand on graph paper, the type French schoolchildren use to hone their handwriting.
Was this Oscar Wilde’s home? We can’t be sure – the details of what is arguably the most famous portrait of the controversial playwright and author have long been lost in time. But it’s easy to imagine Wilde, a fan of frippery and opulence, surrounding himself with chez longs and fur. Wilde lived in Chelsea, in a smart redbrick house on a street that, at the time, was filled with bohemians. He entertained many of them in the yellow drawing room, which boasted a ceiling painted by Whistler and Edward Godwin, and also received a few come-uppances: in 1894, the Marquess of Queensberry turned up unannounced to threaten to ‘thrash’ him.
Hunter S Thompson
While some writers seek quietude and escape with their homes, Hunter S Thompson instead chose to use his as an extension of his extravagant personality. The writer, who pioneered gonzo journalism, moved to Owl Farm, a ranch in Aspen, Colorado, joining a rag-tag bunch of hippies, renegades and ranchers. There, his son recalled, he would wake up in the late afternoon and enjoy his breakfast at what would be dinner time for everyone else. Thompson devotees can still visit Owl Farm now – his widow opened it to the public – and touch the keys of the typewriter that dragged Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas kicking and screaming into existence.