One of our favorite things about author houses is that they often have enviable libraries–cozy, book-lined rooms that we covet since we don’t have libraries of our own. In fact, when I’m working at the Dickens Museum in London, my favorite days are spent downstairs in the library (pictured above) doing handling sessions with our visitors. Although we have many cool objects in our handling collection (Dickens’s quill pen and ruler, to name just two), it’s usually the library that takes center stage with guests, who “ooh” and “ahh” over the shelves lined with dozens of first and early editions of his works.
One of Shannon’s favorite libraries is at Sir Walter Scott’s estate, Abottsford, in Scotland. The atmospheric room is virtually as he left it when he died in 1832. Known as the father of the historical novel, he knew his Scottish history and his collection of more than 9,000 rare books at Abbotsford reinforces that. The richly moulded ceiling in the room is copied from Rosslyn Chapel, which the author admired and wrote about in his poem “Rosabelle.” (Click here to take a virtual tour of Abbotsford.)
Across the pond in the United States, the abolitionist, writer and freed slave Frederick Douglass spent up to five hours a day studying and writing in his library at Cedar Hill. He was self-taught and continued to read and learn throughout his life. At his roll top desk Douglass wrote numerous speeches and his final autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. His extensive library contained more than 1,000 volumes that included books on history, science, government, law, religion, and literature. The walls display portraits of people Douglass knew and admired such as Susan B. Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, and Wendell Phillips.
Edith Wharton’s 2,600-volume library at The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts, spans from her adult life to her childhood and includes a rare first of edition of Alice in Wonderland, which Wharton knew “by heart.” The books are a window on her life as a writer and the friendships she forged with other great intellects and artists, including an inscribed volume from Morton Fullerton, her journalist lover in Paris; a copy of Theodore Roosevelt’s America and the World War inscribed with the words: “To Edith Wharton from an American-American!”; and many volumes signed by her friend Henry James. One is The Golden Bowl, in which he wrote, “To Edith Wharton – in sympathy.” In her autobiography, Wharton proclaimed, “The core of my life was under my roof, among my books and my intimate friends.” –Joni Rendon