The Fairytale Importance of the Literary Salon and Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy

“Grand Salon” Hôtel du Collectioneur, Paris 1925. Arch. Emile Jaques Ruhlmann

First, what is a salon?

1. A RECEPTION ROOM IN A LARGE HOUSE

The common feature of a salon: It is set up for social interaction.

Madeleine Lemaire - Le Gouter au Salon du Peintre 1891
Madeleine Lemaire – Le Gouter au Salon du Peintre, 1891.

As shown in the header illustration, “Grand Salon” Hôtel du Collectioneur, Paris 1925. Arch. Emile Jaques Ruhlmann, a salon is also a feature of a grand hotel.

2. WHERE A HAIRDRESSER / BEAUTICIAN / COURTIER CONDUCTS TRADE

(A courtier is often in attendance at the court of a monarch or other royal personage. They’re not all noble, because courtiers include the clergy, soldiers, secretaries and so on.)

Fiep Westendorp, Dutch illustrator (1916-2004)
Fiep Westendorp, Dutch illustrator (1916-2004)

3. THE LITERARY SALON WHICH STARTED IN FRANCE

Innovation is driven by the recombination of ideas. So the larger a population you have and the more interconnected it is, the more ideas can flow among diverse minds and create baby ideas. … Jeffrey West … in his book Scale tries to make this case that just getting a bunch of people together in the same place, talking to each other is a huge accelerant to new ideas

Sean Carroll and Joe Henrich in conversation

The literary salon originated in seventeen-century France and was the birthplace of conte de fées: fairy tales, in which the ‘fairies’ are magical creatures.

Charles Perrault, along with other men, is remembered today as a significant figure in establishing this genre of story but, as often happens in historical accounts of important figures, it was actually women who mostly hung out in these French salons, interacting, swapping stories and talking about literature. The fairy stories functioned as commentary on power structures and wealth.

In the 1630s, the Marquise de Ramboillet owned a salon in Paris called Chamber bleue. Highly educated women from aristocratic families gathered there. They were called the précieuses. In contemporary English, this loanword now refers to a pretentious woman who puts on airs, which should tell us a lot about how we feel, as a culture, about women who are genuinely smart: Fakers.

Later that century, one of the woman authors of these new fairy tales started to make a splash. Her name was Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy. In 1690 she released “The Island of Happiness”. (It was novel-length.) Seven years later she released four volumes of conte de fées, Tales of the Fairies (1697), establishing her for centuries as a significant figure in European fairytale history. It was actually D’Aulnoy who coined the term conte de fée.

D’Aulnoy had reason to be interested in fairytales as a vehicle to express emotions around gender injustice. She had been married off at 15 to an abusive man three decades older. Like all women of her time, she could not inherit, and could not work to earn money.

Seventeenth century France is known for its ‘gender wars’. During this century a number of all-male academies were being founded. Women quite rightly felt marginalised and saw the need for a revolution.

Today, fairytales which all end with the heroine marrying the man she loves seem retrograde, but marrying for love was itself a radical idea in the context of a culture which married its girls off and gave them no autonomy whatsoever to marry who they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with.

The Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns begaun in 1687. The ‘ancients’ were all about Greco-Roman literary archetypes. In oppsition, the ‘moderns’ praised archetypes from French folklore and from medieval, courtly tradition. In case you’re wondering, Charles Perrault was on the side of the Moderns. His fairy tale “Griselda” (1691) was written to exemplify his modern views. Perrault was publishing fairy tales at the same time as Marie-Catherine D’Aulnoy.

Excluded from The Establishment, aristocratic french women decided to start their own private space for recitations, performance and general storytelling. Fairy tales are perfect for this kind of storytelling because they sit between the oral tradition, can easily incorporate aspects of pop culture and also classical literary traditions of the so-called elite. A fairytale can be anything the storyteller wants it to be, because the backbone of plot is so robust. The form is also very welcoming; you don’t even have to know how to read and write to have a solid appreciation of fairytale.

I don’t want to make these aristocratic women seem too liberal. I mean, they were still wealthy white women practising wealthy white feminism in their private salons. The stories they used as base were from ‘the common folk’, but they weren’t interested in inviting the actual common folk to these salons. They didn’t want to be associated with the nursemaids and peasant women of the world. Charles Perrault was happy to write about such women because he didn’t need to worry about being taken for one. In contrast, the female salonnieres preferred reciting fairytales starring sibyls and fairies. These ladies were fans of Giambattista Basile (1566 – 1632) and Giovanni Francesco Straparola. Basile was an Italian fairytale collector remembered today for the earliest known European versions of Rapunzel and Cinderella. Straparola (1485?-1558) was also Italian. He published a collection of stories in two volumes called The Facetious Nights or The Pleasant Nights. This collection includes some of the first known printed versions of fairy tales in Europe, as they are known today. We don’t know much about him, partly because Strapola is unlikely to have been his real name.

Fast forward to the time of the Grimms, who today catch a disproportionate amount of the credit for tales they collected (largely from women), and who dismissed the fairy tales of D’Aulnoy for being sentimental, feminine and domestic in nature. Before the Grimms came along, D’Aulnoy’s work was hugely popular, and distributed in translation all across Europe in The Fairies Cabinet (1785-89). Andrew Lang was happy to include a number of her stories in his Fairy Books. In contrast, renowned misogynists the Grimm Brothers actively sought to minimise the importance of D’Aulnoy in fairy story tradition, and they were successful in their mission. How many readers know of the Grimm brothers (and Charles Perrault) but not the name of Marie-Catherine D’Aulnoy today?

When she is mentioned, she is often positioned as secondary to the male actors in the history of fairy tale. Note the wording of the following sentence from Britannica online:

Her best-remembered works are Contes de fées (1697; “Fairy Tales”) and Les Contes nouveaux ou les fées à la mode (1698; “New Tales, or the Fancy of the Fairies”), written in the manner of the great fairy tales of Charles Perrault but laced with her own sardonic touch. 

Britannica

Interesting Ceilings In Illustration

EXPOSED BEAMS

Ward, Bryan, Bobby Brewster and the Winkers' Club H.E.Todd, 1950
Ward, Bryan, Bobby Brewster and the Winkers’ Club H.E.Todd, 1950
Monique Valdeneige
Monique Valdeneige
Jill Barklem (English, 1951-2017) - Boscodirovo ceiling
Jill Barklem (English, 1951-2017) – Boscodirovo ceiling
Cinderella and her Friends (A Little Golden Book) 1950
Cinderella and her Friends (A Little Golden Book) 1950
by Ivy L Wallace for Pookie puts the World Right (1947) ceiling
by Ivy L Wallace for Pookie Puts The World Right (1947)
Trina Schart Hyman illustration for Sleeping Beauty 1977
Omar Rayyan - Rimonah of the Flashing Sword A North African Tale ceiling
Omar Rayyan – Rimonah of the Flashing Sword A North African Tale ceiling
Charles Martin Hardie - Interior, Ancrum
Charles Martin Hardie – Interior, Ancrum
Christmas Eve in the Studio, 1911 Mary Fairchild Low; 1858-1909
Christmas Eve in the Studio, 1911 Mary Fairchild Low; 1858-1909
Edward Henry Corbould - Hetty Sorrel and Captain Donnithorne in Mrs Poyser's dairy 1861
Edward Henry Corbould – Hetty Sorrel and Captain Donnithorne in Mrs Poyser’s dairy 1861
From HC Andersen, The Wind's Tale; Illustrated by Edmund Dulac, 1911
From HC Andersen, The Wind’s Tale; Illustrated by Edmund Dulac, 1911
Bernie Wrightson (1948 - 2017) 1976 illustration for Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Bernie Wrightson (1948 – 2017) 1976 illustration for his own adaptation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The beams aren’t connected properly. It’s almost Escher-like, but they’re all on skewed perspectives. However, this ceiling makes for excellent, visually interesting composition.

CATHEDRAL CEILINGS

Stanislav Plutenko, b.1961 Russian  oil and tempera on canvas painting train station
Stanislav Plutenko, b.1961 Russian oil and tempera on canvas painting
James Stephanoff - Buckingham House, Octagon Library 1818
James Stephanoff – Buckingham House, Octagon Library 1818
James Stephanoff - Buckingham House, East Library
James Stephanoff – Buckingham House, East Library
'Covent Garden Flower Market' (1967) by Edward Bawden
‘Covent Garden Flower Market’ (1967) by Edward Bawden
Karl Alexander Wilke (1879-1954) ceiling
Karl Alexander Wilke (1879-1954)
Jules Guerin, American artist, illustrator and muralist (1866-1946) for Egypt and its Monuments, text by Robert Hichens
Jules Guerin, American artist, illustrator and muralist (1866-1946) for Egypt and its Monuments, text by Robert Hichens

The Home Hearth in Art and Storytelling

Frank Holl - Faces iFrank Holl - Faces in the Fire 1863-67n the Fire 1863-67

In his book Home, Witold Rybczynski describes a typical European house:

Heating was primitive. Houses in the sixteenth century had a fireplace or cookstove only in the main room, and no heating in the rest of the house. In winter, this room with its heavy masonry walls and stone floor was extremely cold. Voluminous clothing, such as Jerome wore [in the famous etching [St Jerome In His Study] was not a requisite of fashion but a thermal necessity, and the old scholar’s hunched posture was an indication not only of piety but also of chilliness.

Home, Witold Rybczynski

This is the 1514 etching he’s talking about:

Albrecht Durer, St. Jerome in His Study (1514)
Continue reading “The Home Hearth in Art and Storytelling”

Cutaway Houses In Picture Books

Cutaway illustrations are described by engineers and architects as ‘sectional axonometric’ drawings. They exist to show the viewer the inside of an object, with emphasis on its parts. In picture books for children, the cutaway illustration is quite often educational in its intent, for example to show the reader the inside of an object of building.

For example, the image below is a cutaway image of an insect nest, designed to show the viewer what it looks like on the inside — novel exposure of an otherwise secret space.

There was a time when cutaway illustrations were very popular for child consumption, and I guess that’s because they were so new and therefore impressive. You see them a lot in early to mid 20th century advertisements.

'Lancia Ardea' Poster by Giorgio Alisi, 1939 cutaway car
‘Lancia Ardea’ Poster by Giorgio Alisi, 1939 cutaway car
Factory cutaway illustration of an 18 size 'Veritas' 23 ruby-jewel pocket watch, displaying its astonishing intricacy, circa 1903. That year, Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company
Factory cutaway illustration of an 18 size ‘Veritas’ 23 ruby-jewel pocket watch, displaying its astonishing intricacy, circa 1903. That year, Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company

Popular computer games are all about the cutaway, normalising it, removing the ‘wow’. The Sims is all about the cutaway houses.

Sims cutaway house
from Mod The Sims

I also associate ‘cutaway’ views in games as necessary but bug-like features, for example when a character in a first person game approaches a wall, then partially enters the wall. This also happens in 3D architectural software when moving the camera about. It’s called ‘glitching through walls’. This game phenomenon is visually unappealing and I think it removes some of the romance of the cutaway house.

Though the golden age of the picture book cutaway seems to have passed (for now), it’s much easier for illustrators to create these images, even with no formal design training. A familiarity with popular 3D design software affords anyone the reference material to go to town with cutaways. But perhaps this is precisely why the cutaway is less utilised now; because it is less special? Or perhaps the proliferation of images in our culture has stripped away the feeling that we are afforded a glimpse into a secret world.

In any case, I remain in awe of a good cutaway illustration. The most simple and therefore the most suited to a retro style are these one point perspective dollhouse cutaways:

The illustration below is created in two point perspective, which lends a modern complexity.

This is a sectional axonometric comic by American cartoonist Chris Ware. Frames on a page are depicted as rooms in a brownstone building, a fusion of comic book design and architecture.

Modern software allows designers to create the ‘exploded axon‘. In these exploded diagrams, not only do we get a cutaway, detailed and 3D view, but each item is separated out. In the fascinating image below, Chris Ware has taken elements of exploded axons and applied a comic book style. These images are from a graphic novel called Building Stories (2012).

exploded axon by Chris Ware
Chris Ware

And here is a three point perspective example.

1974 printing of 1960's book Let's give a PARTY, pictures by Joanne Nigro
1974 printing of 1960’s book Let’s give a PARTY, illustrated by Joanne Nigro

Various “Picture Book” Cutaway Houses

It’s not easy to find the original creators of the images below, but each of them might easily appear in a children’s book. Some of them might just as easily have appeared in 20th century advertisements.

Victorians loved to make miniatures, and rich houses often commissioned miniature replicas of their own homes. These now look like ‘doll houses’ though they were not used for play.

The intrigue for miniature houses has not gone away. Though they have a retro vibe — or precisely because of this — look on any craft website and you’ll soon find embroidery patterns of cutaway houses (a.k.a dollhouses).

Paul Zelinsky - Rumpelstiltskin
Paul Zelinsky – Rumpelstiltskin
George Zacharie (1906–1985) illustration for advertisement for Northern California Electrical Bureau,  December 1948 issue of Sunset magazine
George Zacharie (1906–1985) illustration for advertisement for Northern California Electrical Bureau, December 1948 issue of Sunset magazine

THE LIVING CITY EXHIBITION

Below is a well-known image of a cutaway building. Aerial perspective is achieved by rendering the background in sepia tones, and the people outside the building as grey silhouettes. This image is my favourite cutaway illustration.

Image by Andres Marin Jarque for the Valencian Museum of Ethnology’s permanent exhibition “The Living City”. Depicts the interior of a city apartment block at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Littles and Their Friends with illustrations by Roberta Carter Clark
Brian Paterson, cutaway caravan
Brian Paterson, cutaway caravan
George Hughes, "Early Guests" 1957; used on the Saturday Evening Post cover November 23rd
George Hughes, “Early Guests” 1957; used on the Saturday Evening Post cover November 23rd. This illustration is not ‘cutaway’ in the usual sense, but the composition intrigues.
Les Roses bleuâtres l’oubliette dans la cuisine by Edward Gorey
Les Roses bleuâtres l’oubliette dans la cuisine by Edward Gorey
Arthur Rackham ~ Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen,1932 "When night was come and the shop shut up."
Arthur Rackham ~ Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen,1932 “When night was come and the shop shut up.”

There is apparently an Inn like this the Siebel illustration below located in upstate New York. It’s called “The Bull and Garland“.

Dinning Out by Frederick Siebel (1913-1991) cutaway house
Dinning Out by Frederick Siebel (1913-1991)

FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

The Lost Art Of The Cutaway

A Slice of Spitlefields by Ben Rea

Adam Simpson has made updated posters for Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. By using the cutaway technique reminiscent of yesteryear, these new posters take the audience right back to the 20th century. The designs are beautiful.

The See Inside series of Usborne books

Chimneys In Art And Storytelling

Fred Cecil Jones (British,1891-1956) - Chimney stacks and winding ways, 1936

Chimneys are inherently scary. A few years ago I turned up at our local country bookclub and assumed the host had been slow cooking meat for dinner. Others entered one by one and assumed the same. The grim truth was revealed; a possum had fallen down the chimney. I won’t go into further details because they are gruesome and tortuous. But I’ve heard the story more than once. Owning a chimney, at least in Australia and New Zealand, puts wildlife at risk.

Certain wildlife is attracted to chimneys, sometimes because they’re trying to find a hidey-hole to escape a predator, and sometimes, I wonder, if they are attracted to the heat in wintertime.

The Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley illustrated by Barbara Cooney (1917-2000) published in 1967
The Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley illustrated by Barbara Cooney (1917-2000) published in 1967
Continue reading “Chimneys In Art And Storytelling”

Castles In Art and Storytelling

Maxfield Parrish - Dream Castle in the Sky

The castle is a feature of Gothic storytelling, and commonly makes appearances in ghost stories of all kinds. Dragons and castles also go together.

As kids my friends and I played King of the Castle. There’s not much to it. We used a pile of dirt, left by some builders. One person climbs to the top and says, “I’m the king of the castle, you’re the dirty rascal.” That’s about all that happens. The pleasure derives from pretending you’re the boss of your friends.

I wonder if kids still do this? The children in the painting below are using the elevated platform of a cart to play the same game.

Myles Birket Foster - Who's to be King of the Castle
Myles Birket Foster – Who’s to be King of the Castle
Continue reading “Castles In Art and Storytelling”

A Brief History of Home Lighting

Eyolf Soot (1859 - 1928) In the lamplight, 1885

With the invention of electric light human lives changed suddenly. This change was reflected immediately in art, first by the Impressionists. Impressionist painters were the first to enjoy the freedom of painting without reliance upon the sun, in plein air. Artists from the 1960s to today use light sources to express ideas, concepts and to overcome the material limits in a work of art. Writers also use light in this way.

For an example of a beautifully designed website, which happens to tell the history of art and light, see E luce fu (And There Was Light). The website is written in Italian but the English auto translation works fine.

Continue reading “A Brief History of Home Lighting”

The Symbolic Basement In Fiction

The Blind Fiddler 1806 Sir David Wilkie 1785-1841 Presented by Sir George Beaumont Bt 1826

In Gaston Bachelard’s Symbolic Dream House, you probably shouldn’t go down to the basement, ever. I mean it. Nothing good ever happens down there. The basement is the house version of a fairytale forest — a descent into the subconscious. We can’t control our subconscious. That’s what makes it scary.

EXAMPLE ONE: BASEMENTS AND BEREAVEMENT

The older woman character in Alice Munro’s “Free Radicals” has recently lost her husband. It’s scary to live alone. The reader is never entirely sure if she really had an intruder, or if she sort of hallucinated him, inspired by a visit from the meter reader, who goes down to that dreaded basement.

First she must deal with her dead husband’s things. That’s when the reader is introduced to the basement. Or, shall we say, ‘cellar’. (Cellar sounds way less scary.)

“It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.”

E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

This is also the bit where Munro introduces the fuse switches —a soft Chekov’s Gun. (Munro is generally expert at depicting places in a realistic way.) I mean, this is what a real cellar looks like, right? Important: Detail is multivalent in Munro’s fiction — it works at both literal and symbolic levels.)

She would deal with the cellar first. It really was a cellar, not a basement. Planks made walkways over the dirt floor, and the small high windows were hung with dirty cobwebs. There was nothing down there that she ever needed. Just Rich’s half-filled paint tins, boards of various lengths, tools that were either usable or ready to be discarded. She had opened the door and gone down the steps just once since Rich had died, to see that no lights had been left on, and to assure herself that the fuse switches were there, with labels written beside them to tell her which controlled what. When she came up, she had bolted the door as usual, on the kitchen side. Rich used to laugh about that habit of hers, asking what she thought might get in, through the stone walls and elf-size windows, to menace them.

Alice Munro, “Free Radicals

EXAMPLE TWO: BASEMENT AS COSY PRISON

Another example from Alice Munro.

Basements are not always scary, spooky places, especially in a city like Vancouver, where a basement may simply be another ordinary level of a house, set up accordingly. In “Cortes Island“, the newly married 1950s bride feels both cocooned and stifled by her marital home. Here we have the cosy description:

There were two and a half rooms in our apartment. It was rented furnished, and in the way of such places it was half furnished, with things that would otherwise have been thrown away. I remember the floor of the living room, which was covered with leftover squares and rectangles of linoleum—all the different colors and patterns fitted together and stitched like a crazy quilt with strips of metal. And the gas stove in the kitchen, which was fed with quarters. Our bed was in an alcove off the kitchen—it fitted into the alcove so snugly that you had to climb into bed from the bottom. Chess had read that this was the way the harem girls had to enter the bed of the sultan, first adoring his feet, then crawling upward paying homage to his other parts. So we sometimes played this game.

Alice Munro, “Cortes Island

When the couple move out into a third floor apartment, the narrator has got herself a job and become less of a shadowy, peripheral figure in the world. She has been relegated to ‘married woman’ status — newly invisible. She is inclined to retreat further into her comfortable, introverted state.

This means leaving the cosy comfort — but also the prison — of her basement.

MORE ON BASEMENTS AND CELLARS

Attics aren’t much safer than basements, to be fair. Atriums are different again.

Basements are secret places — what we do down there is often against the rules. In Adventureland, teenagers have sex in their parents’ basements rather than in their own bedrooms. In the popular imagination, young adults remain in their parents’ basements if they fail to launch into the responsible world of adulthood.

You might try writing a scary basement scene using the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s IT as inspiration. Notice how the camera moves as if it’s a fish in the ocean, about to gobble you up. Stephen King as well as the filmmakers fully get that symbolic association between City and Ocean, underscored by the dialogue “You’ll float too!”

How to recreate this ominous floating on the page? Well, it’s all in your choice of detail. Try starting with a wide-angle description, zooming in, lowering your ‘camera’ by describing feet and stairs… and so on.

A Quiet Place is another film in which a basement fills with water. (Ridiculously quickly, but acceptable within the world of the film.)

Stephen King loves his basements. In Carrie, Mrs White is destroyed while taking refuge in the basement.

Basements are pretty much mandatory in gothic children’s horror, and have made me wish many times we had basements here in Australia. Lemony Snicket and Courage the Cowardly Dog stories make heavy symbolic use of basements. Mercy Watson’s family has a basement, and those are cosy picture books, with just a hint of danger.

But in funny children’s stories, the basement can be a carnivalesque setting. Jeff Kinney’s Greg has a basement. That’s where sleepovers happen, among other hijinx. The basement of an office block is used to similar effect in The I.T. Crowd.

Silence of the Lambs turns the ground level of a house into something way more reminiscent of a basement, then we realise there’s a deeper layer — a deep hole, where the baddie keeps his skin prisoners. All of this is highly symbolic, of course: This guy lives among us (at ground level) but has hidden, evil depths in his twisted psychology.

As far as fairytale basements go, Bluebeard depicts your archetypal horror basement.

The Utopian Basement

In Arcadia, the basement is a storehouse, full of things you may need in times of famine.

Jill Barklem (1951 – 2017) British writer and illustrator Brambly Hedge Crabapple Cottage
by John Phillip Falter
by John Phillip Falter

Header image The Blind Fiddler 1806 Sir David Wilkie 1785-1841 Presented by Sir George Beaumont Bt 1826

Passages, Hallways and Corridors

Herbert Thomas Dicksee - Memories, an Old Man Seated in a Church 1885

When storytellers focus on the hallways and passages of a building, look for metaphor. Take note of the width of the passageway: Narrow passages might represent the will to escape. Broad passages represent freedom and space.

The tunnel is the naturally occurring equivalent of the manmade passage. In houses, the passages, hallways and corridors are the liminal arenas, because they symbolise ‘inbetweenness’.

I love scenes set in hallways myself. In Midnight Feast, the hallway is a transitory space between reality and the freedom of imagination, functioning similarly to a fantasy portal.

the hallway from Midnight Feast by Slap Happy Larry
the hallway from Midnight Feast by Slap Happy Larry
In the next scene, the corridor has turned into a stage.
In the next scene, the corridor has turned into a stage.

CASE STUDY: HOUSE AS CONTROLLING MATRIARCH

The house described by Dawn French in her 2015 novel According To Yes is one of those huge, very old New York apartments that only the wealthy can afford. The main character is a ‘blithe spirit’ archetype similar to Mary Poppins who indeed arrives in New York from Wales as a nanny. She is a fish out of water. The house belongs to a stiff, upper-class, domineering woman and her ‘henpecked’ husband.

This corridor wasn’t intended to be dark, requiring internal lighting at all times. It’s the kind of space that is supposed to have light thrown into it by the leaving open of various doors all the way along. That doesn’t happen in this apartment under the rule of Glenn Wilder-Bingham. No. All doors remain neatly shut, and all the corridors off the main hallway, of which there are four, remain gloomily dark. It’s not that Glenn Wilder-Bingham is a vampire, it’s that she is a consummate control freak. If she could she would control all the light and doors in the world. As it is, she has to satisfy herself with the light and doors in this vast apartment only. Until she takes over the world, this will have to suffice.

Dawn French, According To Yes

In this example, the house functions metaphorically as an architectural version of the matriarch — formidable, dark and unwelcoming. (This same metaphor — house as formidable matriarch — is used and abused in the children’s film Monster House.)

By saying that Glenn Wilder-Bingham is not a vampire, the narrator encourages the reader to think of her of exactly that (the technique of paralepsis). Vampires lead us to bats. The hallway in this house, therefore, functions as an urban cave.

CASE STUDY: WALLS AS PASSAGEWAYS

If you’ve ever had a rodent infestation you’ll know that rats and mice love ceilings and walls. The Rats In The Walls by Lovecraft makes the most of what was surely a familiar night-time sound before the invention of Rough On Rats (and subsequent safer poisons).

Neil Gaiman was perhaps thinking of that famous Lovecraftian short story when he conceived of The Wolves In The Walls, in which a child’s fear manifests in… well… it’s all in the title.

I wonder how common it is to imagine monsters in the walls of one’s house. Is it as common as Monsters Under The Bed? The particular horror of something residing in the walls is that it’s right there but you can’t see it. Once something is in the walls, it might as well be in the house.

The first Addams Family cartoon, 1938
Caldecott medalist Barbara Cooney's 1955 dust jacket design for Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, first published 1868-1869
Caldecott medalist Barbara Cooney’s 1955 dust jacket design for Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, first published 1868-1869
Frederick William Elwell (British , 1870 – 1958) My Neighbour’s House, 1929
Frederick William Elwell (British , 1870 – 1958) My Neighbour’s House, 1929

CASE STUDY: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

Lost in the Wild Wood, Mole and Ratty stumble upon Badger’s house. Badger invites them in warmly.

[Badger] shuffled on in front of them, carrying the light, and they followed him, nudging each other in an anticipating sort of way, down a long, gloomy, and, to tell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort of a central hall; out of which they could dimly see other long tunnel-like passages branching, passages mysterious and without apparent end. But there were doors in the hall as well — stout oaken comfortable-looking doors. One of these the Badger flung open, and at once they found themselves in all the glow and warmth of a large fire-lit kitchen.

The Wind In The Willows

The home of a badger is called a ‘sett’.

Their setts are usually situated in or near small clearings in woodland or copses. Roughly 80% or so are in woodlands or hedgerows where trees or their roots provide the badger with some form of protection. The sett will be obvious to those who know what to look for, as the ground around the used entrances will probably be free of vegetation, and may be muddy and may show evidence of badger prints. There may also be evidence of latrines (holes in the ground) nearby, into which badgers do their poo.

Badgerland

The Badger of The Wind In The Willows is a Spirit archetype, a guide in the woods who saves Mole and Ratty from certain death. At a metaphorical level, Mole has entered the Wild Wood to get in touch with the most repressed part of himself. When Badger invites him further into it and leads him down all these branching passages, Kenneth Grahame is utilising the symbolic archetype of crossroads. Down here, Mole is going to be making an (off-the-page) moral decision about what comes next.

WHY ARE HALLWAYS CALLED HALLWAYS?

The paintings below of upper class houses go some way towards describing how a ‘hallway’ comes from the ‘hall’, which is a very large room with multiple uses.

In his book Home, Witold Rybczynski describes eighteenth century English bourgeois life, when people spent most of their time at home — a private place where one did not simply call in to the house of another — it was the done thing to leave a calling card and wait for a reply. (I believe we’ve since returned to the era of the ‘calling card’, at least here in Australia, where you don’t simply knock on the door — you send an SMS to say you might pop round.)

An invitation having been received and properly accepted, the first room which greeted a visitor to the house was the hall. Although aristocratic homes were often organized around a medieval-style centrally located hall, the hall of a middle-class house was a room adjacent to the entrance, located so that doors led from it to the main common rooms. Since it contained the main staircase, it was a large room, and, in keeping with its medieval ancestry, one that often contained coats of arms and suits of armor. Although it was no longer the main gathering room, it did serve an important function as a setting for the ceremonial arrival and departure of guests on formal occasions. Here visitors arrived, under the frosty gaze of a family retainer, to gain admittance to the house. This was the room where carolers were invited in to sing at Christmas, and where the servants gathered to be addressed by the master on important occasions.

Witold Rybczynski
Leonard Campbell Taylor (1874 - 1969)
Leonard Campbell Taylor (1874 – 1969). The woman in blue looks almost ghostly.
Adelaide Claxton (British painter) 1835 - ca. 1905
Adelaide Claxton (British painter) 1835 – ca. 1905. The characters in this illustration are more clearly ghosts, also blue, also hanging around stairs and landings.
Frank L. Emanuel Kensington Interior 1912
Kensington Interior 1912 Frank L. Emanuel 1865-1948
Barbara Ninde Byfield (1930 - 1988) The Haunted Spy Doubleday, 1969
Barbara Ninde Byfield (1930 – 1988) The Haunted Spy Doubleday, 1969

Especially where stairs open into hallways and corridors, these spaces are regularly considered a place where secret converations happen. This is no doubt to do with the practical realities of landline telephones of yesteryear, where the most convenient place to anchor a phone to the wall was next to the stairs. The stairs therefore become a natural sitting place to talk for hours. It’s also possible to eavesdrop from above the landing. The hallway with stairs therefore becomes associated with eavesdropping. And because the word ‘eavesdropping’ includes the word ‘eaves’, it’s clear that the stairwell association with overheard conversation replaced an earlier trope of the spy character standing under eaves, from the other side of a wall. The ‘eaves’-dropping trope clearly dates from an era when houses were much smaller.

Patricia Coombs, illustrator and children's book writer
Patricia Coombs, illustrator and children’s book writer
Alice in Wonderland by Gennady Kalinovsky 1974 hallway
Alice in Wonderland by Gennady Kalinovsky 1974 hallway
Swedish painter, Henrik Nordenberg (1857-1928)
Swedish painter, Henrik Nordenberg (1857-1928)
‘The Red Door’ Isabel Quintanilla (1938-2017) Spanish painter Oil on Canvas hallway
‘The Red Door’ Isabel Quintanilla (1938-2017) Spanish painter Oil on Canvas hallway
Mary Dawson Elwell (1874-1952) East Yorkshire hallway
Mary Dawson Elwell (1874-1952) East Yorkshire
Louise Rayner - Interior at Haddon Hall
Louise Rayner – Interior at Haddon Hall

SEE ALSO

Header painting: Herbert Thomas Dicksee – Memories, an Old Man Seated in a Church 1885