CS Lewis once said “Come, live with me and you’ll know me”, especially true when applied to holidaying with friends. So-called bubble breaks can be wonderful, if you get the dynamics right, says PENNY McCORMICK …
Imagine literature without house guests. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice would have been rather different without the presumptuous Mr Collins, if Jane Bennet had not fallen ill at Netherfield, or if Elizabeth had not re-met Mr Darcy at Rosings. War and Peace would have had conflicts, but no romance. Charles Ryder would never have visited Brideshead, let alone revisited it.
You may have loved or loathed Emily Mortimer’s recent three-part adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, but either way the key to the telling is Fanny Logan’s status as an insider-outsider guest at Alconleigh, home to her Radlett cousins and the barking Uncle Matthew.
EM Forster’s novel Howard’s End opens with Helen Schlegel staying for a few days at the country home of the Wilcox family, setting in motion the social and romantic entangling of two very different families.
Meanwhile, the unnamed narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Fall of the House of Usher endures one of the worst houseguest experiences in all literature. When he arrives at the request of the ailing Roderick Usher, he has no idea what he is getting into. The ending supplies a great metaphor for a visit that doesn’t go to plan.
One of my favourite books is The Young Visitors by Daisy Ashford, written in 1890 when the author was nine (and prone to spelling mistakes). Alfred Salteena, 42, who is “not quite a gentleman but you would hardly notice it” already has Ethel Montacue staying with him when Bernard Clarke sends an invitation to visit with “one of your young ladies whichever is prettiest in the face.” Soon Alfred and Ethel set off for Richamere Hall, but not before Ethel puts “some red ruge on my face, because I am very pale owing to the drains in this house.” (Sound plumbing is essential to the success of a good holiday with friends).
The success of such holidays is dependent on many factors – not least the weather and group compatibility.
If fiction relies heavily on social interaction, so do we. Over the summer months, many of us will stay in rented accommodation with old friends, elderly parents or relatively new Zoom buddies. The success of such holidays is dependent on many factors – not least the weather and group compatibility.
“Holidaying with good friends is one of life’s great pleasures,” believes Irish author Karen Perry. “However, when your holiday companions are not well known to you, the situation can be fraught with difficulties, perhaps even danger. In my novel, Stranger, when the Holland family travel to the home of their French exchange student, what promised to be a relaxing summer break in idyllic rural France quickly descends into a nightmare scenario. Thin walls, a lack of personal space, being forced to spend every waking hour in each other’s company … add some toxic teenage behaviour and tensions start to mount. An evening of too much wine causes secrets to be blurted out, and the holiday takes a terrifying turn.”
Perry has some good advice. “If you find yourself holidaying with unfamiliar companions, the following tips might be useful; make sure that your accommodation allows for privacy and space; be polite but firm about carving out some personal time; don’t judge other people’s parenting; forgive anything said either very late at night or very early in the morning; and go easy on the wine if you want your deep dark secrets to remain hidden. Finally – remembering Benjamin’s Franklin’s famous remark that guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days – keep it short!”
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