Saturday, October 07, 2006

Another House Inside a Book

One of the most beautiful books I own is this one, Wildings, by Duff Hart-Davis. It's the life story of Eileen Soper, the English artist and illustrator of children's books. It's filled with tons of sepia-toned photos and pages and pages of Eileen's art.

Eileen lived at Wildings from the time she was three until weeks before her death, having shared the home solely with her sister, Eva, after their parents' deaths. Here is a description of the house at Wildings as it was discovered when both elderly sisters had been taken to the hospital--and for whatever reasons--I love rereading these words and picturing the scenes they conjure.

But let me make it clear--I, myself, would not, could not, live in a house kept like this (though truthfully, some dark winter days I am tempted to let my house go, to allow it to become something mysterious and crowded with all sorts of interesting objects wherever ones eye pauses. But that feeling passes, usually after a few hours or a few days.) No, I wouldn't want to live inside a house like this, but truly, I would love to visit one. To take a peek for myself and search among all the hidden treasure from eighty years of accumulation..

From Wildings: The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper:

"Most of the rooms were full to the doorways, partly of furniture, but mainly of apple boxes, cardboard cartons, carrier bags and bundles of paper. Always a human squirrel, Eileen had rarely managed to throw anything away, and now her nest was crammed with the detritus of a lifetime's work...

"The rest of the room was solid with cartons. Most of them contained papers: income tax returns fifty years old, bank statements from the second world war, copies of ancient correspondence with book publishers, drafts of poems scribbled on the backs of torn-up cornflakes packets... But there were also old magazines and newspapers by the thousand, books stacked in piles on the floor,, rolls of material ordered but never used, pairs of shoes carefully packed inside plastic bags and then stowed inside other bags.

"The high-ceilinged studio, on the first floor at the back, was also packed with books and papers, as well as with framed and unframed oil paintings by both Eileen and her father; another upstairs room contained box after box of empty jam jars... Mice were nesting not only in Eileen's slippers but also in the chest of drawers on the landing and in other comfortable resorts. From the stores in the kitchen it looked as though the sisters had lived exclusively on milk jellies and biscuits, but there were ample stocks of food for birds and other wild creatures."


And of course, this next part sounds more romantic than it is in reality. I realize that. Really, I do, but still...

"Dormice gave birth in the beds of the house, and birds customarily pecked the sisters awake each morning. If not Eden, it was enough for them."


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