Guildford's literary links
PUBLISHED: 11:57 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:39 20 February 2013
Having provided inspiration to many writers across the generations, Guildford remains a hub of creative talent today. Matthew Williams turns the pages on the town's literary history, from Lewis Carroll and Agatha Christie to Sandi Toksvig
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2010
Having provided inspiration to many writers across the generations, Guildford remains a hub of creative talent today. Matthew Williams turns the pages on the towns literary history, from Lewis Carroll and Agatha Christie to Sandi Toksvig
While Stratford may have Shakespeare and Wordsworth belongs to the Lake District, its often all too easy to gloss over Surreys comparable literary links, many of which centre on Guildford. But, anyone passing through our county town this year would have very quickly realised how proud folk are of the writing traditions in these here parts.
As well as the recent Guildford Book Festival, which brought our literary links firmly into focus, the celebrations surrounding the life of Alice in Wonderland creator Lewis Carroll, who is buried in the town, took centre stage over the summer.
Around 23,000 people came through the doors at Guildford House Gallery and Guildford Museum for our exhibitions and talks on Lewis Carroll, says Lynn Szygenda, exhibitions officer at Guildford Heritage Services. While Alices Adventures in Wonderland was, of course, at the forefront of conversation, many local people were pleased to learn that parts of Through the Looking Glass were worked on in Guildford and the inspiration for The Hunting of the Snark came to him while walking on the hills near Guildford. He worked out the rest of the nonsense poem from the one line: For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
While Carroll lived and worked for most of his life in Oxford, he often visited his six unmarried sisters who resided at the Chestnuts, near Guildford Castle, and socialised in the area. Along with the family home and his grave at the Mount Cemetery, visual reminders of Carrolls legacy can also be found in the form of the Through the Looking Glass and Alice and the Rabbit statues, located near the castle and river, respectively.
The Alice and the Rabbit statue was made by Edwin Russell, a local sculptor, in 1984, says Mary Alexander, collections officer at Guildford Museum and Guildford House Gallery. The girls who posed for it were friends of the artists daughters and the rabbit was chosen from 500 white rabbits on a farm and lived with the sculptors family.
Pushing the boundaries
Another famed author with links to the town, although there is no statue, is Aldous Huxley, who grew up in Godalming at Charterhouse School and as a keen cyclist spent a lot of time exploring the Surrey Hills around Guildford (which gets a mention in his novel, Brave New World).
Huxleys books are famous for pushing the boundaries of fiction and their wide-reaching imagination and you cant help but wonder whether this was inspired by the breathtaking views and stimulating ascents that are found just a stones throw from the town centre, says Jessica Sage, events co-ordinator at Waterstones Guildford High Street branch.
Stretch the boundaries ever so slightly from the town to nearby villages and you also take in Agatha Christie, whose life is intertwined with Guildfords nearby Shere and an attempt to fake her own death at Newlands Corner. Then theres EH Shepard, who may not have provided the words for the Winnie the Pooh books but did provide the pictures. The archives of the long-term Shamley Green artist are held at the University of Surrey in Guildford. And not forgetting PG Wodehouse, of course, who was born in Guildford at Vale Place in Epsom Road, and used local place names for some of his characters, such as Lord Worplesdon and Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright.
Concentrating only on the past and the classics, however, would be to overlook a bubbling and burgeoning bibliography of writers making their names right now.
We dont only have to turn to history to find a wealth of Guildfordian literature there are many published authors living in and around the town today including Adele Parks, Emma Dodd and Sandi Toksvig, says Jessica. So much so, we host meet the author events
every Saturday to support budding and established writers, and who knows, maybe someone will be writing an article about one of them in 200 years time!
Authors also visit Guildford from further afield and draw on it for inspiration, with the likes of Julian Stockwins 11-book Thomas Kydd series featuring a Guildfordian lead character, and the recent teen novel imagining the life of a young Sherlock Holmes by Andy Lane, Death Cloud, having the protagonist travel to Guildford in search of an expert in exotic diseases. It would, of course, be remiss not to mention the Ford Prefect in the late Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, who vehemently claimed to be from Guildford while actually hailing from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.
Guildfords heritage and environs has proven inspirational for generations of authors, and continue to do so today, supported by groups such as the Guildford Writers, initiatives like the Lewis Carroll Festival this summer, the enthusiasm of local bookshops and, most importantly, the readers themselves, adds Jessica. Their books might be very different without the influence of Guildford, and it is certainly safe to say that the town would be very different without their rich cultural influence.
I couldnt have put it better myself and I doubt Lewis, PG, Aldous et al could have either.