Know Your Place

In my copy of Wuthering Heights, I have a piece of heather that I picked from Penistone Crag, up on Haworth Moor. Up there, all the wildness and romance of that books seems to be a lot more real. Catherine and Heathcliff’s passion makes sense when you’re standing on Penistone Crag, staring across miles and miles of moors.

I’ve stood on the footpath where Captain Wentworth proposed to Anne Eliott, and sat on Box Hill, where Emma was nasty to Miss Bates.

I’ve stood in front of Resurrection House, in Rochester, the original of Satis House and felt it loom over me, watching and judging me.

In some parts of Seven Dials, if you turn the right corner, the walls are suddenly high and dark and windowless, and the street is narrow, and all Anne Perry’s tales of St Giles seem just a bit too close to comfort.

Having the right place brings a novel to life. If it’s possible to stand and walk where characters in a book stand and walk, they seem to be a lot more real. They seem to be standing behind you. And the very best authors use place not just as a setting, but almost as another character in their story. The Yorkshire Moors and London and Lyme Regis are as much characters in Bronte and Dickens and Austen as any of the human people.

A good strong sense of place grounds a novel, and makes it real. even an imaginary place, such as Middle Earth, will work, as long as the author sees and believes in it and makes it live.

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