Saturday, December 16, 2023

Quote of the Day (Adam Nicolson, on the Importance of Place)

“Places give access to minds.” — English author Adam Nicolson, How to Be: Life Lessons From the Early Greeks (2023)

What Nicolson had in mind when he wrote this were natural landscapes. But countries, cities, towns—even homes—can play just as important a role in exciting the imagination.

I can think of few better examples than "Old Kentucky Home," a boardinghouse in Asheville, NC, that was the boyhood home of novelist Thomas Wolfenow preserved as the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site.

In his classic 1929 coming-of-age novel Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe transformed this environment into "Dixieland," a place so chaotic that he slept in a different bed each night because of his mother’s need to accommodate the stream of visitors who, she believed, represented the only means she had of keeping the family from poverty.

As I explained in a May 2012 post, Wolfe recalled to his favorite teacher that he had been “a vagabond since I was seven—with two roofs [his stonecutter father, vehemently opposing wife Julia’s purchase of the property, refused to leave their former house in town] and no home. I moved inward on that house of death and tumult from room to room, as the boarders came with their dollar a day, and their constant rocking on the porch.”

As a youngster, Wolfe dreamed of a life beyond this environment and the hills of western North Carolina. Little could he have imagined that he had already received a lifetime’s worth of material, in the form of his own large and larger-than-life family and the boarders whose stories he couldn’t help overhearing at night—and remembering years later.

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