Literary bookshelves

Lamb House bookshelves

You may remember among the photos I included in a piece about Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex, the picture of some bookshelves as Henry James might have seen them (sadly the books pictured are not James’ originals).

I thought I might also share with you some images of other bookshelves I saw on a recent visit to places in East Sussex and Kent, shelves associated with a couple of other literary figures. You may care to imagine, as I did, the authors in these places scribbling away or reading the latest publication sent their way.

First is Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, home to Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson. Plebs aren’t allowed in Vita’s writing room in the Tudor tower but they can snap photos through the bars of a gate. To one side is this view of bookshelves, a hexagonal table with clawed feet and, through the arch, a painting on a classical theme; her desk is out of sight to the left.

Vita Sackville-West’s Writing Room, Sissinghurst

To the right one sees more books and a chaise-longue, where Vita and her occasional visitor could warm themselves by a fire.

Unfortunately one wasn’t allowed to photograph Harold Nicholson’s own retreat — that too was filled with books — but it’s possible to photograph the Library, fashioned by the pair from former stables and servant’s quarters.

The Library, Sissinghurst Castle, Kent

At one end the readers and their visitors are cocooned with books, while the other end has shelves lining the whole of one wall. I do like a collection of books looking as though they have been used regularly rather than those that are there for affectation, just to give the appearance of erudition or intellectualism.

Another home visited in this are was Virginia and Leonard Woolf‘s Monks House in East Sussex. Though only part of the ground floor was available to view there were plenty of books in evidence (again, not all original to the previous owners), for example in the living room …

… in Virginia’s own bedroom …

… even on the stairs.

Charleston, the home of Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell and her husband Quentin was also well endowed with reading matter everywhere, but neither here nor at the late Christopher Lloyd‘s Great Dixter were photographs allowed so sadly no interior images from here are available, so let me finish off with bookshelves closer to home (home for me being Wales).

First, a shot of the refurbished living room of Llwyn Celyn, the 15th-century farmhouse in the Black Mountains that I’ve referred to in a previous post, now available to hire as a holiday let by The Landmark Trust: shown here is a selection of guidebooks and other material of local interest.

Finally, I end with a recent photo of the Book·ish book van (suitably decorated with well-known fiction titles) outside its shop in Crickhowell, also in the Black Mountains, well worth a visit if you’re in the area and proof that you don’t have to be rich or famous (or even a rich, famous author) to have access to books these days to put on your own shelves

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28 thoughts on “Literary bookshelves

  1. Shelves overflowing with books and a comfy chair to read them in- what more do you need! (well, may be cat or dog or both if they aren’t killing each other :P)

    1. A cat’s fine, so long as it isn’t continually asking most plaintively to go in or out the door (as ours does). Never had a dog so can’t really comment but so long as it doesn’t smell, leave hairs everywhere and sits in companionable silence I’d be fine with it!

      1. They don’t really smell (if you bathe them on time, but even otherwise, not really). I’ve actually always had a dog, and cats are newer to me as pets so am still getting used to their habits, though I seem to have fallen out of practice with dogs in some ways…

        1. I have known the odd less-than-fastidious dog owner in my life (or perhaps they’ve just lost their sense of smell) but, yes, of course you’re right, Mallika, and I’ve also also had the privilege of meeting some really lovely dogs so I do know where you’re coming from. 😊

          1. Well, I met my share of less-than-pleasant smelling ones too- so I can understand your objection to them as well. But they (dogs I mean, not smelly ones) lovely friends.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, something to reassure those of us who have difficulties in passing books along.
    You have had a wonderful bookish time.

  3. earthbalm

    Fabulous post Chris. Books, books and more books. Must visit Crickhowell soon and get the RS book to your daughter’s.

    1. Thanks, Dale, I knew this might appeal to all true bibliophiles!

      Do visit Crickhowell, it’s in the running for the Great British High Street Awards (hashtags #GBHSCrickhowell plus #MyHighStreet on Twitter and Instagram count as votes!) and even though today it’s marooned by flood waters — approach roads are nearly all inaccessible and the Usk is thundering beneath the teeniest gap under the arches of the bridge — the town is always worth a visit! (Let me know before you come though!)

      As for the Sutcliff book, there’s absolutely no rush, you know, whenever’s convenient, and I’ll be grateful whenever it arrives. 😊

      1. earthbalm

        Saw the footage on the news. I cannot believe the water level came so high. I hope you weren’t one of the poor people affected.

        1. I’ve posted some pictures on MyNewShy today to give an impression. The town wasn’t badly hit compared to other places in South Wales but many locals said they’d never seen it so bad.

    1. The warmth was partly down to drawn curtains (it was quite a sunny day in late summer) and judicious lighting but definitely it was cosy, though I gather it used to be quite cold in winter.

      Books on stairs? Your stairs must be quite wide! Ideally I’d like stairs with enough space to have built-in shelves so I’m perpetually distracted on the way up or down, and there’d be convenient steps to sit on too!

  4. This is a wonderful post, Chris. I do so enjoy peeking in on the bookshelves, book rooms and libraries of writers. I enjoy seeing where and how they read and write. Consider making this a regular feature from your travels.

    1. I’ll certainly do that, Laurie, but I’ll need to plan the visits first! Glad you enjoyed this post though, I might be able to fit in another post on this theme soon. 😊

    1. It is, isn’t it? Her sister Vanessa Bell did much of the decoration here, and the detail on the tiles round the fireplace is probably her work. You may be glad to know, Robert, that I shall be putting up a couple more posts about literary places soon, including more of Virginia’s home.

  5. Lovely photo’s, thanks! There’s that fantastic bookcase in VW’s bedroom that is full of her own books though, isn’t there – that she covered herself – I think that’s my favourite part of the whole house (and the back step!)

    1. Yes, there is, next to her ‘writing armchair’! I’ll be putting up a post about Monks House in the next few days or so with that bookcase, and a lot more besides. It’s also high time I reread Orlando, must be a good few decades now, and now I think I might start to understand it!

      Glad you liked the photos — sadly I don’t think I took a picture of the back step…

      1. I re-read Orlando this year and loved it even more than the first time. My only criticism of the National Trust and Monks House is that there isn’t more about Leonard. He was such an important figure in the 20th century and it was his house too!

        1. Yes, I ought to read up more about Leonard. My image of him is coloured by Guy Henry who played him in the BBC drama Life in Squares and Al Weaver who played him as a younger man. Interestingly, Weaver is in Grantchester as is James Norton who was also in the Bloomsbury serial as Duncan Grant.

  6. I didn’t watch Life in Squares, I was a bit worried about how they were going to be portrayed (coward!) I started with Leonard’s autobiography which is wonderful.

    1. Thanks, Jane, I really ought to look into his writings. The TV series was interesting but dreadfully confusing without a detailed knowledge of the period and personalities involved; intriguing though!

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