More Than One ‘Eave of Destruction’ in the Literary World

I’ve had historic preservation, or lack of, on my mind this past week.

As my “Montclairvoyant” column link at the end of this post describes, my town’s Planning Board sadly voted February 11 to approve a redo of a former train station that will wreck some historic elements of the vintage site. Elsewhere in town, two beautiful mansions — one dating back to 1865, the other to 1907 — were demolished several days ago to make way for a future obscenely large single-family compound with a spa, an indoor pool, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a basketball court, seven guest rooms, a staff wing, etc.

So, naturally my thoughts turned to building destruction in the literary world.

For instance, some of you may remember that the Los Angeles house author extraordinaire Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) lived in for more than 50 years was torn down in 2015 by a heartless architect who wanted to put a fancy new house on the site.

Then there was the New York City apartment building Willa Cather lived in with her friend/life partner Edith Lewis starting in 1913. The two of them had to leave the place in 1927 — the year Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop came out — when their Manhattan building was condemned to make way for a subway line. (The photo atop this blog post shows Cather — sitting left, on the bench — in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park in 1924.)

Of course, fictional works also feature plenty of ill-fated homes and other structures — surely a dramatic plot element.

For instance, the devastating fire that ruined Edward Rochester’s Thornfield Hall mansion is a pivotal occurrence in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

There’s also a key house fire near the end of Lee Child’s Echo Burning — a Jack Reacher novel whose title sounds rather surreal/metaphysical/philosophical but literally refers to a climactic blaze on a ranch in fictional Echo County, Texas.

And a fire at the New York World building is a major element in Jack Finney’s time-travel novel Time and Again.

Or how about Anthony Burgess’ historical novel The Kingdom of the Wicked, which ends with the burying of Pompeii? Unimaginable destruction there.

And in Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” that titular abode ends up disintegrating.

Of course, war novels and apocalyptic novels — Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is one example of the latter — are filled with buildings bombed-out or otherwise destroyed.

Your most-remembered examples of structural destruction — of real-life author homes or fictional buildings?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which comments on what’s mentioned in the second paragraph of this blog post — is here.

84 thoughts on “More Than One ‘Eave of Destruction’ in the Literary World

  1. This may be a bit off topic, yet I think it’s a fascinating study re: the preservation vs destruction of historic buildings. I much prefer the former. Some years back I decided to read James Cain’s novel “Double Indemnity” since I so enjoyed the movie. I was surprised to learn he based his novel on a real life murder, and lo and behold, I found the original house in the movie still existed. Odd little website here but still fascinating nonetheless: http://www.iamnotastalker.com/2011/10/10/the-double-indemnity-house/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, SW! Not off-topic at all! That’s a fascinating link in a fascinating website. I love both the text and photos. I saw “Double Indemnity” many years ago, and — in a country where so many great structures unfortunately get the wrecking-ball fate — it’s great that the “DI” house is still there. I haven’t read the novel (yet).

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  2. I could think of Thorn-field in Jane Eyre was a pivotal moment as it was Bertha, Rochester’s first wife responsible for it and eventually brought both Rochester and Jane together. I also felt that semi- destruction of Tara in ‘Gone With The Wind’ was quite poignant too! In ‘Disgrace’ by South African writer J.M Coetzee, the farm is ransacked by the natives ( not really destroyed) nonetheless the house is vandalized. In one of Nadine Gordimer’s story “ The Ultimate Safari” The child narrator walks across the wild life reserve to find refuge in the camps set up across the reserve. I feel destruction in literature works both literarily and metaphorically symbolizing a moment or the twist in the plot! Also in ‘Surfacing’ by Margret Atwood you have theme of destruction of idyllic childhood setting vs the modernized world. Atwood herself spent her childhood in wilderness away from the maddening city life!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Tanya! The destruction of Thornfield was indeed pivotal in “Jane Eyre.” And great mentions of several other books, including “Surfacing.” (While Margaret Atwood’s later novels are better than her earlier ones, the earlier ones are still pretty darn good!) I totally agree that destruction in literature often works on both a literal and metaphorical level.

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  3. Malcolm Lowry and his second wife, Marjorie Bonner,lived in a sort of squatter’s shack on the water near Vancouver BC– but it burned to the ground, and Lowry was injured in his attempt to save manuscripts, most significantly, the manuscript of “Under the Volcano” (1947), his masterpiece, and only mature work published in his lifetime. From what I can gather, mostly from wikipedia, and my own recollection, they lived in the squatter’s shack from the late 1930’s till 1944– Lowry’s alcoholism and overall physical condition made him unfit for military service, though he did attempt to volunteer. They never again had a fixed residence, but traveled throughout Europe and the US, till his death “by misadventure”, brought on by alcohol and barbiturates, in 1961.

    As noted in wikipedia, ‘Lowry reputedly wrote his own epitaph: “Here lies Malcolm Lowry, late of the Bowery, whose prose was flowery, and often glowery. He lived nightly, and drank daily, and died playing the ukulele,” but the epitaph does not appear on his gravestone.’

    Lord (George Gordon) Byron, again from my own recollection and wikipedia, lived as a young man with his mother in the ruins of his family manse, Newstead Abbey– some parts of the ceilings had caved in, some walls were open to the weather. Here, between terms at Trinity College, he kept a bear (!), which he had acquired after he learned that the college forbade the keeping of dogs. There was no such rule against bears.

    Lastly, a sort of calamity in which your work outpaces you: Caravaggio , one of the greatest and most influential painters of his age, died, probably of a heart attack, running on a beach in an attempt to keep up with a ship from which he had recently disembarked due to ill health brought about by infection of knife wounds. The ship containing all his unsold paintings, along with the rest of his worldly goods, had left port without him. He had been promised a pardon for a murder charge in exchange for the paintings, so his running after it had been, literally, a matter of life and death– but death found another way to take him. It’s unclear to me what exactly happened to the paintings in that ship’s hold.

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  4. Hi Dave,

    I’m always a little sad when Scarlett returns to Tara in “Gone with the Wind”. While it’s not completely destroyed, the homestead doesn’t have the best of times during the war.

    Speaking of cathedrals, (well, Kat Lit was) there are a few in Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” which was discussed a few weeks ago. A lot of the story involves Tom the Builder wanting to build the biggest and bestest of cathedrals. Sadly, one of the cathedrals that he works on early in the story is burnt down in quite exciting circumstances.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Sue! Thank you! Yes, there are degrees of destruction. Tara was definitely on the losing side of “A House Divided” (America’s Civil War).

      “The Pillars of the Earth” remains on my list for the next time I’m ready to read a VERY long book. 🙂 Seems like that novel has content to fit many blog themes!

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      • Hi all, this is my special place to go to so I’ve not invited any of my friends or family to join on. Sorry, Dave. but that’s special for me to join in. I hope that doesn’t perturb you in any way. It’s just that I might mention any of my family or friends in posting anything here, so I try to stay with anyone I might consider as appropriate.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Tara notwithstanding, the attractions of those columned and porticoed ante-bellum houses are for me a bit problematic, given who built and who worked for nothing in and around them. But I own a classic photo book titled “Ghosts Along the Mississippi”, which is comprised largely of studies of various plantation houses, most of which, at the time they were photographed, were in various states of disrepair. In it I learned something I had not anticipated: many of these places, especially the most spectacular ones, (which we now consider typical), corinthian-columned and endlessly verandahed, were nearly new at the time of the Civil War, having been built by the more speculative and reckless of the planters, and several of their plantations had gone bankrupt in short order, before the shootin’ even started.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Please, sir, can I have another (correction)?
          Kindly replace in the first sentence the ‘is’ with an ‘are’:
          “…the attractions of those columned and porticoed ante-bellum houses ARE for me a bit problematic,…”

          Thanks, Dave!

          Liked by 1 person

        • I hear you, jhNY. Even the best-looking plantation houses give one a queasy, awful feeling when we think about who were forced to build them and what they stand for.

          Interesting how relatively new many of those houses were at the time of the Civil War when they were often built to look classically “antique-y.”

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      • Thank you for the comment, bullgarlington2015!

        Sorry about your hometown. Some change is inevitable and can be good, but I sense from your comment that things changed in your town more than they had to.

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        • Hi Dave, can you just please delete this semi-comment from this blog. I’m not sure what I was going for with this irrational sentence and just probably hit the post comment by mistake.. I’m sure there was some method to my madness, but I don’t know what it was. My only excuse is that my sleeping habits are so different than before I can’t really keep track of from day to day. And then I was back to Kat Lib!

          Liked by 1 person

      • I grew up in Nashville. I feel your pain. And did as you did, managing to get disoriented and confused to the point of pulling over to ask directions– a few short (though newly paved) blocks from the olde ancestral manse!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Not fiction, but an incredible read: “The Nature of the Gothic” by John Ruskin. It’s a long chapter in his several-volumed work, The Stones of Venice.” But it’s available, I’m sure, by itself.

      I would recommend “The Stones of Venice”, but only to those who would be enlivened by a most exhaustive and focused exposition on the topic of stonework in architecture– principally Gothic. The accompanying illustrations were made by the author and are, in their detail, near perfect– as is, to my taste, Ruskin’s essay style, though he does mean to teach, most of all.

      Liked by 1 person

        • It’s a tour-de-force in multi-clausal prose.

          I own more Ruskin than most folks, as he was the object of an entire term’s self-study course I undertook in college. But one volume of his works in my care (as it happens, a first volume of “The Stones of Venice”), underwent a rebinding, and now wears the author’s name as “Rushkin” on its spine…Mix-up or mash-up? As the prose within more than occasionally aspires to poetry, I can’t be certain, especially as each possible author suffered a suicide, though Ruskin’s was purely social.

          Liked by 1 person

          • And Pushkin’s was self-willed, if assisted, ably, by a dueling partner, who would have died too, had it not been for a fortuitously-placed brass button on his tunic. Or, more accurately, Pushkin insisted on the opportunity to die for honor, and did so.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you for the follow-up comments, jhNY!

              If I were reading nonfiction books these days, I might have given “The Stones of Venice” a try (especially given that I’ve visited that wondrous city twice), but I barely have enough time these days to read enough fiction to feed this blog. 🙂

              Ruskin/Pushkin mash-up — nice! When I first saw
              “Rushkin,” I thought of the band Rush. Inappropriate for the subject matter, though that band’s lyricist/drummer Neil Peart got rather literary at times and has written a number of (nonfiction) books.

              Pushkin lived quite the dramatic life. All I’ve read of his is the novel “The Captain’s Daughter,” which I thought was excellent.

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              • I’ve read Pushkin’s short stories, and some, but not all of Eugene Onegin– but I’ve prepared myself to read it entirely, and repeatedly, having recently picked up the Nabokov translation (many times larger than the poem) and two others– I shall read among them, hoping it leads to understanding.

                We’ll never know who was the better shot, as a poet: Lermontov or Pushkin, since Lermontov, who was exiled for his poetic attack on the enemies of the late Pushkin, never fired his own dueling pistol, having allowed his adversary to fire the first shot– which pierced Lermontov’s heart.

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          • I had for some reason thought that John Ruskin was somehow related to a family in the town I grew up in PA. But I can’t find anything on Wikipedia that supports that; the only thing is the last name of a family I knew way back then. The only mention for PA is of the University of Pittsburgh way on the other side of the state. Ah well, so much for memories. During college I was at home on a break of something in Minneapolis. One of my sorority sisters wanted to call me, so since she didn’t have my home number, she called directory assistance and the operator said, do you really want me to look up all the Johnsons in Mpls.? Then she finally found my parents’ address and the operator told her that there was not a home there, because it would mean that we were living in the middle of a lake. As you can see, my love of lakes started a long time ago! 🙂 Also, when I visited Sweden in 1969, there were fewer residents with Swedish names than in Mpls!

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            • I’d imagine that the name John Ruskin, when it registers at all here in the contemporary US, most often conjures up an image of a cigar box– his name and face (sans his permission) once graced a fairly popular American brand, which one occasionally runs across in flea markets and attics. He was himself an only child, and childless, so whatever relatives he might have would be come from prior generations to his own.

              Ironically, the man hated smoking as a habit, and smoke as an outpouring of the industrial age, which he likewise despised.

              From an article published in The Independent (2000):

              “In 1884, John Ruskin delivered a lecture entitled The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century, in which the critic conjured up the image of a pestilential cloud enveloping Europe, obscuring forever the pure light of the Renaissance. Ruskin, unsurprisingly, was as enthusiastic an anti-smoker as an anti-modern. Through the vapour of his paranoia, we can glimpse the gloomy intimacy of smoke and modernity, a link rarely as clear in its morality as it was for Ruskin.”

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  5. I get frustrated too that better care is not taken to preserve historical buildings around here. When I traveled Europe, I was amazed at how old some of the buildings are and how well-cared for they are, some are still even thatched-roof! Some places in the English countryside especially, it truly feels like stepping back in time because the buildings are so well kept. I really wish we did a better job of that here. That being said, I’m glad you mentioned “Fall of the House of Usher,” because it was the first thing that came to my mind! And you know Poe is one of my favorites.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, M.B.! So true — Europe is much more interested in — and so much better at — historical preservation than the U.S. is. One of the reasons Europe is such an appealing place to visit, as you noted.

      As for Poe, if I’m remembering correctly, his writing was and is VERY popular in Europe. One of the highest-regarded American writers there.

      Liked by 1 person

    • On the other hand, Europe has destroyed much of itself through war and fire several times– what is left is often reconstructed, and much more, even in the last century, was lost than was ever reconstructed. Having been Europe for so much longer than we have been around, it is unsurprising to see that, Europe, having more of the historical to preserve, has done so.

      In Paris, there is an ordinance that in historical districts, the facades of houses may not be altered, so that the character of the street is maintained. Behind such facades, there are often new apartment blocks. If there must a compromise, this is one I like.

      On the other other hand, I wish we took more care here to preserve our past. In NYC, where I live, old things have been torn down and new things built up from the very beginning, the value of the real estate eclipsing historical value nearly always.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Very true, jhNY, about war destroying many buildings in Europe. And, yes, that continent has a very long history in terms of architecture, etc.

        Preservation on the outside/renovation on the inside is definitely a thing in Paris and elsewhere. When my wife and I spent part of our honeymoon in Venice, we stayed in a hotel which had a 13th- or 14th-century outside with a mostly modern inside. Definitely better than losing the entire building.

        NYC, and the U.S. in general, have lost so many great buildings — which developers with stuffed wallets are very happy about. 😦

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  6. Dave , currently all I am thinking of the reality, trump wants a wall, even it means destruction of hundreds of homes, churches, and historical buildings.

    All he wants is a wall although drugs get into this country through the ports of entry, and the liar in chief knows about that but the stupid man is cunning to please his base.

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    • Totally agree with your anger, bebe. I didn’t realize buildings would also be destroyed for that stupid wall. (I knew nature and animals would be threatened.) And, yes, the wall would do nothing except please some of Trump’s base. Trump wouldn’t even be keeping his ridiculous campaign promise, because he promised that Mexico would pay for the wall. Instead, all of us U.S. taxpayers would pay for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He promised many things and delivered standard GOP destruction– tax cuts for the wealthy, and more money thrown at the Pentagon, which, to date, cannot even audit itself, nor track the money it spends. Remember how he was going to make a replacement for Obamacare that would be cheaper, cover more people and deliver better care? And infrastructure? Yet only the wall is the one promise he can’t ignore, according to his reactionary critics, and thus , his rabid base.

        A sobering, frightening thought: If Trump had actually come out at the beginning of his term with a massive infrastructure bill, and a sweeping better form of healthcare delivery, he would have made himself very popular with a great many citizens, despite all his banana republic impulses and demonstrable unfitness for the job… and we might, by this point, be under the power of a dictator (in every way but name) who, if he allowed another election, would win!

        Mendacity and lassitude and wanton vitriol are all that stopped him from becoming That Dictator Guy. So far.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Excellent points, jhNY! When running for prez, Trump did make some feints about being a “different” Republican. But, as you noted, he ended up pushing typical nasty GOP policies — with his added layer of incompetence, craziness, etc. You’re right — if he had had the brains, discipline, and vision to chart a different path, he might have become fairly popular. But he has none of those three things. I guess that IS something to be sort of thankful for.

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  7. 2nd attempt:

    In Kate Atkinson’s novel “Life After Life” the main protagonist Ursula is born and dies in many different timelines, and she learns something from each of her lives along the way. Dave, I think when I talked before about this novel, we were reminded of the great episode of Star Trek TNG in which Tasha Yar reappears after a death in a different timeline that only Guinan is aware of. Back to “Life After Life,” the most harrowing episode was during the horrific London Blitz of WWII, when if I remember correctly, Ursula was a fire warden at the time.

    This reminds me of the Coventry Cathedral in England, which I visited during my trip to Europe in 1969. I should say Cathedrals, because there are actually three Cathedrals. The oldest one mostly in ruins, and the second quite beautiful one that was bombed and also mostly ruined during WWII by the Luftwaffe. A new modern one was built and opened in 1964, which is right next to the middle one and is somehow attached to it. Both are very different but both quite wonderful. I appreciated the fact that the architect for the modern one made it a condition that the bombed one not be torn down but stay in place, and both are considered as a sign of reconciliation. Lovely…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lit! Sorry your comment needed a second posting attempt.

      I tried “Life After Life” a few months ago and unfortunately couldn’t get past a few chapters. Maybe I should have stuck with it. That complex novel certainly has a VERY intriguing premise.

      Great description of the Coventry cathedrals! I think it’s so important to preserve history — whether for aesthetic reasons, remembrance reasons, or other reasons — and am glad it was done there.

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      • Yes, I agree that the story surrounding Coventry Cathedral is very interesting and heartwarming. As you know, I’m not a religious person, but I found the idea of those Cathedrals still there and no one had to tear any of them down when building a new one. It’s OK Dave, that you couldn’t get into “Life After Life,” as I’ve always said each person has distinct tastes, and I find that a good thing. How boring it would be if we all liked the very same things (which is why I still love my best friend even though she doesn’t want to read Jane Austen! 🙂 As I’ve mentioned before, my family of eight all had different tastes in books, music and artwork. Probably if one did a Venn diagram of that, there would be some intersections, but not too many or at least fewer than in some families. Uh-oh, I see a Venn diagram in my future. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kat Lit, I agree that it would be boring if we all liked the same books and other things! But, yes, there are always some intersections of interests, even when less of them than average in some cases — as with your family!

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        • My childhood friends and I are talking about a summer reunion that might happen one of these days up here in the Poconos. I’m very excited about the prospect, though it’s my view more than the home itself (though I do love it). There’s also a few beaches and pools in the community, as well as being not far from the biggest waterpark in the country. So I’m hoping this will all happen this year, as we’re not getting any younger. I’m not sure why that just popped out of my brain, but I apologize for the change of topic.

          Liked by 1 person

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