Thursday, 20 March 2008

Dulce Domum

"The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancor. He was now in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly how plain and simple--how narrow, even--it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to; this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome."
Extract taken from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I find it very interesting how the classic literature of the early twentieth century has such a strong sense of home. Not just the details of floor plan and decoration, but what home genuinely means for the characters in the novels. Think of The Wind in the Willows (1908), Ratty's riverside home where all the good things in life are close at hand; relaxed, informal and welcoming. Badger's home in the wild wood; large and important with an impressive feeling of history and permanence. Little Mole's home; cosy and simple, well thought out and his "anchorage". Only foolish Toad reduces his home to something to brag about and sells off the good furniture when he is need of funds for his motor car! The sensible creatures know that home is important to them, and their friends. They know the fun of being out in the world but are always happy to be safe at home. For the animals of Grahame's Berkshire (I *think* that's where the novel is set) home gave balance to their lives, there are adventures but there is always home. Like the ebb and flow of Ratty's river, home was part of the essential settle and stir of life.

Tolkien too knew the value of home. He was a man who understood the warmth of hospitality only a home can give. Those wood paneled Hobbit-holes with cellars full of cheeses, tea and Old Tokay, are a fantasy version of the country cottages Tolkien knew from the real Shire; chock full of "good things". And Lewis too in the Narnia books, with his descriptions of Mr Tumnus' home and Mr and Mrs Beaver's home. Why in these novels, when the world is crumbling around the character's ears, and real evil is upon the world, is there always time for tea in front of a roaring fire? Many critics suggest that the representation of home in Lewis and Tolkien's work stems from a nostalgia felt in the trenches where home, tea, a roaring fire and a glass of good port may have seemed like a fantasy world away from the reality of the Somme. For them, at that time, dreams of home were an escape from the brutality of their experiences. There is death and hatred and degradation, but then there is always home.

What I do find interesting though is that in the case of Grahame, Tolkien and Lewis their real home-lives were less than perfect, yet there literature tells us that they have an intricate sense of the possibilities of home. Their marriages may have been troubled and their lives may have had their fair share of tragedy but they hung on to and developed an ideal of home. Perfect homes where the characters produced sighs upon entering their domains, made fires, opened tins of sardines and spring cleaned. They were homes without pretension or dysfunction, they were places where toes were warmed and bellies were filled. They smelled sweet with wood smoke and tea. They were sweet, full stop.

Porro ago dulcis domus salum! Porro ago dulcis domus!


Tori said...

Hi, I just found your blog and wanted to say Hi. I'm going to do some reading now!
Happy Friday!!

Anonymous said...

Yes the cosy home, sanctuary from the world does seem to be a common theme.

Happy Easter chuck.

Sarah x

Anonymous said...

How are you feeling? I hope you're better now. :)