The Author’s Effects: On Writer’s House Museums by Nicola J Watson - review by Bill Bell

Bill Bell

The Skull in the Hall

The Author’s Effects: On Writer’s House Museums


Oxford University Press 336pp £30

Shortly after he took delivery of a cast of Goethe’s death mask, Thomas Carlyle confessed that it was ‘the face I longed most of all to see … it is all vanished now, and gone into Eternity; nothing remains of it but this dumb lump of lime! There is something very sad and yet very precious to me in this Gift.’ It shouldn’t surprise us that the great hero-worshipper was an inveterate literary tourist. On a visit to Weimar years later, he found himself kneeling beside the great man’s desk in reverent silence. Fourteen years after Carlyle’s death, in 1895, his own house in London was opened to the public. While the cast of Goethe’s face is now in Edinburgh University Library, today’s visitors are greeted at the entrance of Carlyle’s home by the death mask of Carlyle himself.

Writer’s house museums, notes Nicola Watson, are simultaneously places of absence and presence: absence because they testify to the fact that the authors are no longer ‘at home’; presence because they attempt to reinstall them in the domestic world they occupied in life. The Author’s Effects takes us on an

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