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Glimpses of extraordinary objects from celebrated author’s houses presented as an immersive visual experience and accompanied by a specially commissioned soundscape designed to reflect upon their power and meanings. Ponder Petrarch’s cat, Shakespeare’s quill, Burns’ bed, Rousseau’s trapdoor, Sterne’s starling, De Quincey’s opium-burner, Balzac’s hand, Strindberg’s desk, Twain’s summerhouse and much else.
Professor Nicola Watson explores how and why celebrated authors’ lives have been imagined in the writer’s house museum from Petrarch to the present by looking at a series of extraordinary literary objects from across Europe and North America. She asks about the meaning and imaginative power of these objects, and by extension, about the meaning and function of the figure of the dead author. We’ll be thinking about how the author has been imagined in terms of birth and death, work versus the visionary, the domestic and the wandering, the animal and the immaterial. Put another way, why did someone once decided to embalm Petrarch’s cat and mount it in a marble monument with a handsome Latin inscription? For anyone who has ever got a thrill (or suffered a disappointment) out of visiting a writer’s house, and would like to think more about their experience.
Professor Nicola Watson first became interested in literary tourism when she took tourists around literary Oxford to make ends meet while studying for her doctorate there. Since then she has taught at Oxford, Harvard, Northwestern, Indiana, and the Open University, and has authored or edited some five books and a great many academic essays. During that time she has developed something of a media career, acting as consultant most recently to the recent BBC4/Open University series The Secret Life of Books. For the last ten years or so, she has been working on the history and nature of literary heritage sites, research that has taken her all over Europe and North America, and which she writes about in her book The Literary Tourist, and in the new book she is just finishing up, The Author’s Effects: A Poetics of Literary Objects, Place and Pilgrimage.