Literature is one of the artistic fields widely known for its long-lasting and limitless characteristics. Defining the world of Literature within a specified space is impossible. And that sums up the vast ability of Literature to paint a setting into the mind of the readers, thereby transporting them into these often unrealistic but relatable milieus.
There is no better example than introducing Harry Potter in the context of this topic. It is a phenomenal fantasy due to the setting of Hogwarts and the magnificent structures, giving an idea of the wizarding world. The story progresses within an architectural environment in Literature, whether the genre is horror or fantasy, romance or literary fiction.
Architecture and Literature
The main aim of Literature is to help readers invent a form of escapism to another world. People often invest time and interest and rely on Literature to gain this exciting experience of the past and the future. The world of Literature is heavily influenced by its settings and architecture. It helps the readers to imagine and draw a picture of it. This new world is outside their reality and a gateway for the readers to dream. Unknowingly, people develop a connection and relationship with the cities and places mentioned in the book they read. So, will Literature survive without descriptions of architecture?
The answer to the previous question explains the scenario of a world without architecture. Humankind is known to have curiosity, and all the art forms that exist in the world are an outcome of this curious mind. If both architecture and Literature are considered, they are sources of reliability and a tunnel of emotional attachments to humans. Books heavily depict the story’s settings and bring the readers a touching and relatable element to the story. And this works well because there are a lot of examples of fictional and non-fictional works where architecture is a crucial element of the plot.
Architecture as a Character
Architecture creates a story with a thread of spaces, whereas Literature builds a visual representation of a place with words (Gehlot et al., 2018). Architecture as a character in Literature is not a new concept. This is evident even from the stories published years and decades ago. It is mainly witnessed in classic gothic tales where a house or a mansion is considered a character, bringing depth to the overall story. An iconic example of this type of setting is ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson. While the house in this story adds eerie and suspenseful elements to the plot, there are other examples where the house adds emotional feelings to the story and acts as a central character. ‘The Elementals’ by Michael McDowell is an example of this type where the house shows emotions and gives a paranormal aspect to the book.
In horror and fantasy and almost all genres, architecture can be considered one of the characters that set the mood for the story. Apart from showcasing architecture as a character, another influence of architecture in Literature is by making the main characters associated with the field of architecture. ‘The Fountainhead,’ by Ayn Rand, portrays a young architect and his struggle against the beliefs of conventional standards and ultimately moving forward with modernity. From all these examples, architecture plays a more significant role than we believe.
It is More Than a Setting for the Story
Understandably, architecture in Literature is not only prominent as a setting and a character, but it is so much more. It can evoke the emotional and mental state of the character and the incidents they are going through. Architecture is also emphasized to create metaphors and symbols within the story. In ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, architecture is set as a metaphor to generate the idea that the main character is entrapped and feeling lost inside the room she is confined. A detailed description of the enormous mansion in the countryside is given where the character is being bought to live to improve her mental state. But on the contrary, the architecture limits her freedom and slowly declines her sanity.
Therefore, Literature uses architecture as a narrative element to convey and seek emotions from the readers. In 1929, Alfred Döblin wrote his well-acclaimed novel ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ about a character who recently escaped jail to the bustling outside world. This novel is influenced by other modernist representations of the city, such as Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’ The city and architecture represent the time and changes within the narration and play a critical role in the main character’s life. All these examples indicate that talking about the influence of architecture in the world of Literature is a vast topic, and the results are endless.
Every day you might come across a particular building that you think about from time to time or that makes you feel nostalgic. Architecture is an aspect of our lives without which we cannot live. There is so much fascination in these structures, and the stories they could deliver are always a wonder. The readers gain the same feeling through books describing various places and cities. Suppose the books representing architecture as an essential character should be listed. In that case, there are a lot of examples out there. But that’s a discussion for another day. Until that, let us all dwell in the world where architecture and Literature merge.
- Gehlot , K., Mishra, S.A. and Trivedi, K. (2018) LITERARY ARCHITECTURE, Open Academic Journals Index. International Journal of Research -GRANTHAALAYAH. Available at: https://oaji.net/articles/2017/1330-1541916191.pdf (Accessed: October 29, 2022).
- Five works of literature with architecture as a central character (2020) The Decorative Surfaces. Available at: http://www.thedecorativesurfaces.com/en/five-works-of-literature-with-architecture-as-a-central-character/ (Accessed: October 30, 2022).