In Ruins: A Journey Through History, Art, and Literature
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In this enchanting meditation on ruins, Christopher Woodward takes us on a thousand-year journey from the plains of Troy to the monuments of ancient Rome, from the crumbling palaces of Sicily, Cuba, and Zanzibar to the rubble of the London Blitz. With an exquisite sense of romantic melancholy, we encounter the teenage Byron in the moldering Newstead Abbey, Flaubert watching the buzzards on the pyramids, Henry James in the Colosseum, and Freud at Pompeii. We travel the Appian Way with Dickens and behold the Baths of Caracalla with Shelley. An exhilarating tour, at once elegant and stimulating, In Ruins casts an exalting spell as it explores the bewitching power of architectural remains and their persistent hold on the imagination.
surreal, dazzlingly white in the midday Sicilian sun. There was a car park, and a sign confirming that these were I RUDERI DI GHIBELLINA but no further explanation. The perimeter of the concrete — about 10 feet high — was pierced by narrow pathways, so we entered. At first we scrambled up and down the walls as if it were an adventure playground but as we walked further and further into the maze the blind white walls became sinister. The twisting and turning channels were oddly similar to
of the abolition of monarchy; the ceremonial procession of the urn containing Rousseau’s ashes from the garden at Ermenonville to the new, secular temple of the Pantheon in Paris. He succeeded, and a year after his release was appointed to the Committee superintending the conversion of this royal palace into a museum showing the royal collection of art and antiquities. It is impossible to know the true feelings of this old and impoverished man whose world had been turned upside down, and it is
create a stage-set; indeed, he had visited Lenoir’s Jardin Elysée in Paris. The tomb itself is inscribed Alas Poor Fanny!, as if Padre Giovanni had withdrawn into seclusion because of a broken heart. But Fanny was Mrs Soane’s beloved pet dog, and its tiny coffin still lies in the Monk’s Grave. Soane was satirising the contemporary hysteria for the Gothic, as Jane Austen had done in Northanger Abbey. But he was also concealing a genuine sadness. Soane’s beloved wife Eliza had died two years after
understand Poe’s symbolism by turning to the story he published in the same magazine the previous week. Entitled ‘MS Found in a Bottle’ it is narrated by a man whose cynicism is as expensive as William Beckford’s: ‘all my life I have been a dealer in antiquities, and have imbibed the shadows of fallen columns at Balbac, and Tadmor, and Persepolis, until my very soul has become a ruin.…’ The antique dealer is rescued at sea by a ghostly vessel, made of some porous but ageless wood and crewed by
very long, may the first picture be the picture of Great Britain; and late, if ever, may the second bear the least resemblance to her sinking state!’ The French Revolution revived the millennialism which had been dormant during the enlightened century, for the fall of the Bastille was interpreted as one of the signs in the Book of Revelation that announced the Day of Judgement was nigh. In the slums of London the millennialist preacher Richard Brothers thundered that only extreme penance