Great characters in literature get all the credit, but the fictional spaces they occupy are often just as interesting and can provide an opportunity for the reader to go even deeper into a story. What would some of your favorite stories be without the creepy old farmhouses, crumbling castles, and estates overlooking a body of water whose waves crash against the rocks at night? Today, as we celebrate the birthday of Daphne du Maurier — a writer who gave us one of the 20th century’s most unforgettable grand old homes, in Rebecca — we’re rounding up the most memorable structures that served as settings for some of our favorite stories.
Manderley, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca
It’s one of the most famous opening lines in literature: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” From there, du Maurier turns the country estate filled with antiques, heirlooms, and evil housekeepers that would make the Downtown Abbey staff look like kittens into one of the most important characters in this classic Gothic novel. And if you want a better visual representation of Manderley, you can’t go wrong with Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of the book.
The Navidson house, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves
We’d normally suggest moving out of a house when you find a door that wasn’t there before that leads to a maze that leads to other rooms. Thank goodness Danielewski’s characters are stupider braver than we are, because it results in one of the creepiest books of the last 25 years.
Brideshead Castle, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited
Long before Downton Abbey, Waugh’s classic gave us the large English estate that had seen better times as a symbol of the decline of the British aristocracy. We first see it in the prologue, when Charles Ryder, now a soldier, hears about the place up the road where the British army has set up brigade headquarters, an old castle with a church attached: “I had been there before; I knew all about it.”
Julius Beaufort’s home, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence
There are plenty of stately homes in Edith Wharton’s classic tale of the loves and lies of New York’s Gilded Age One Percent, but shady Julius Beaufort’s home with the large ballroom that opens up once a year might be the grandest of them all.
Castle Dracula, Bram Stoker’s Dracula
We’re guessing that, in its heyday, Count Dracula’s Transylvanian castle was a sight to behold. But the one readers are most familiar with is the epitome of horror literature’s dark, dusty, cobweb-filled mansion, where all you can hear is the wind howling, the waves crashing, and the victims screaming.
Blandings Castle, various P.G. Wodehouse stories
He will always be known best for Wooster and Jeeves, but the old Tudor-style castle at the heart of the bucolic part of England, where Wodehouse set books like Summer Lightning, Heavy Weather, and Uncle Fred in the Springtime, is a close second.
The castle, Franz Kafka’s The Castle
Kafka’s castle wasn’t supposed to be all that remained from a time long gone, and wasn’t the type of place you’d necessarily want to visit. Kafka’s castle represented bureaucracy and alienation, its occupants looking down on the people in the village, closing off what’s inside to basically everybody. Of course, Kafka died before finishing up the book, so for all we know he intended to spruce things up in the final edit.
Villa Villekulla, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking books
Think back to when you were a kid. Wouldn’t you want a house with a monkey, a horse, and a tree with soda pop growing outside of it? Pippi Longstocking is pretty much the ultimate kid with the ultimate house.
Xanadu, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane
While we’re trying to stick mostly to books, Charles Foster Kane’s massive private mountain, based mostly on Hearst Castle, is as important to American fiction as it gets. After Citizen Kane, writers and filmmakers alike tried to top Kane’s monument to money, but none have been able to come close.
221B Baker Street, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books
The place where the greatest detective does some of his greatest thinking, 221B Baker Street didn’t actually exist when Doyle created his famous character. Now the address is synonymous with him.
The Strange High House in the Mist, the H. P. Lovecraft story of the same name
While you might connect Lovecraft with Rhode Island, this story, set in Kingsport, Massachusetts, has one of the great haunted houses on a cliff that’s overlooking the ocean in literary history.
Wuthering Heights (and Thrushcross Grange), Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
It might seem like a dark and dreary place, but the farmhouse on the North York Moors is basically holy literary territory. While it might not be a grand castle or mansion, once you go there, it’s hard to get back.
Jay Gatsby’s mansion, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
It’s hard to know what to make of Jay Gatsby’s Long Island mansion: on one hand, it’s an opulent, marble-filled tribute to the Roaring Twenties, but on the other, he basically built the thing so he could stalk Daisy.
Des Esseintes’ château, Joris-Karl Huysmans’ Against Nature
You can’t create one of the great dandies in literature without giving him an unforgettable home. Des Esseintes’ country home, with its bedroom “where mirrors mirrored one another and reflected a series of pink boudoirs on the walls” and all the expensive and exotic furniture one could want, is one of the most lavishly decorated homes you’ll find in any book.
Sethe’s home, Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Considering this won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, 124 Bluestone Road should really be given literary landmark status.
Hill House, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House
The Sundial and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are both brilliant, but we’d argue that Hill House is the spookiest of all of Jackson’s big old mansions.
Thornfield Hall, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
A nice, big English estate with a lot of dark and unused rooms? Sounds like the perfect setting for a Brontë novel.
Gardencourt, Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady
Whether it be New York or Paris, James loved to place his characters in the sorts of settings that he liked to find himself in. At the beginning of The Portrait of a Lady, James uses the bucolic English country estate to not only open things up, but also deliver another one of the greatest opening lines ever written: “Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Between James and Rebecca, there’s something about beautiful homes that just begs for a perfect opening line.
Misselthwaite Manor, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden
In this case, it isn’t necessarily the house with over 100 rooms itself that’s the main attraction. But you can’t really have a secret garden if you don’t have a creepy old manor.
Dr. Jekyll’s home, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
If you’re going to have two personalities in Victorian London, then you need a home with at least five rooms in it. That’s really a must.
The castellated abbey, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”
We’re sure it’s a sight to behold, but if we were stuck in the abbey, with its single-toned rooms, while trying to beat out the plague, we probably wouldn’t be in any mood to party.
Barton Cottage, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility
It might not be as big or have the luxuries of Norland Park, but the cottage that the Dashwood women move into has heart. And it provides a different sort of setting, one that brings the book’s characters down to earth a bit more.
Oblomovka, Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov
It has fallen into disrepair, and is probably a shadow of the place it once was, but can you imagine how comfortable Oblomov’s family estate must have once been, to produce somebody so lazy and apathetic?
Otranto, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto
Widely considered the first Gothic novel, this book would be on this list just for the title alone. Yet the castle that Manfred and his family live in plays such an important part in the story (like all the books of its ilk to follow) that its place among the great houses in literature is pretty undeniable.
Satis House, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Literature has rarely provided a house as bleak as Miss Havisham’s decaying mansion — the one she spends decades inside, always wearing her wedding dress, with all the clocks stopped at twenty to nine.