LITERATURE

Coveting the Writer’s Cat

True Confession: I married a man who co-opted my cat and stole my identity as a writer. Darcy, who had earned his nickname for his aristocratic airs, at first refused to sit on my pristine linen couch, saying it was “redolent of dander.” Then when my wizened Maine Coon leapt upon on the bed, he hissed at her like an Old Tom, decreeing that when we lived together, there would be no cats.

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Refuge for a First-rate Mind

Samuel Butler was one of the greatest literary intellectuals of the Victorian age. After a miserable childhood, his life was, in large part, a search for a happy home. Butler was raised at the Rectory at Langar, a scrap of a village in Nottinghamshire, in a gracious, spacious, pleased-with-itself Georgian mansion with an ill-tempered clergyman father who was home all week, and a fluttery, manipulative mother who trapped him on the sofa until he confessed to some infraction.

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Sherlock’s Home

As I enter, Dr. Watson removes a decanter of brandy from the tantalus on the sideboard and pours me a drink, adding a splash of soda water from a handsome gasogene before inviting me to take a chair by the fireplace. I can see the ‘VR’ on the pockmarked wall created by a bored Holmes with his revolver. In the corner is the wax bust he used to deceive Colonel Sebastian Moran (“the second most dangerous man in London”) and nearby, a violin left carelessly close to Holmes’ glassware and chemicals on a lab table.

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Shelley’s Perfect Villa

In England, Shelley’s health was poor and he was deeply depressed; he blamed his ills on living there, on “the smoke of cities, and the tumult of human kind, on the chilling fogs and rain.”

Shelley believed that moving to Italy would change everything. “Health, competence, tranquility,” he wrote a friend “all these Italy permits, and England takes away.” His chief pleasure in life was “the contemplation of nature” and Italy’s natural beauty would satisfy him as no other place could.

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The Philosophy of Sailing

“The sea is in all things the teacher of men….Time on the water is quite different from time on land. It is more continuous; it is more part of the breathing of the world; less mechanical and divided for it is in the hours when he is alone at the helm, steering his boat along the shores, that a man broods most upon the past, and most deeply considers the nature of things.”

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How I Built Myself a Home

My wife Sophia, myself, and the beginning of a happy line, formerly lived in the suburbs of London, in the sort of house called a Highly-Desirable Semi-detached Villa. But in reality our residence was the opposite of what we wished it to be.

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Men at Home

While the house has largely been the domain of women, men have strong domestic leanings, too. For the 20th century Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, home is the Good Mother who meets our daily needs, gives us our first memory of belonging and sets the stage for our intimate relationships.

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Soothing a Child’s Heart

Our children are grieving; they miss their schools and their friends, their birthday parties and play dates. They miss beloved grandparents and nannies, aunts, uncles, cousins and babysitters. An entire season has been excised from their lives.

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Close Encounters

I lift the beetle and a shriek fills the room—a noise one might expect from a mynah bird or a cat whose tail is caught in a door, not from anything this size. Startled, I drop the beetle. It scurries under the clawfoot tub.

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