This article, with an intriguing video, appeared in The New Yorker.
Whatever you call it—relics, paraphernalia or realia—the objects discussed verge from touching to revealing to downright macabre. It smacks of trophy-taking to me, in the same way as serial killers keep mementoes of their victims…a button, lock of hair or body part!
There has to be a limit to what collectors will hoard (and admit to owning), based on taste and decency. Would the stones, that Virginia Woolf weighed her already heavy overcoat down with, be collectable? Her suicide letter certainly is. What about the empty shotgun cartridge shell, that once housed the pellets that Ernest Hemingway used to blow his head apart? Japanese novelist, Yukio Mishima committed seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelling himself with a sword—is that blade a literary relic?
Having seen how a writer’s life and career are turned into a thriving business, when my nearest pub was Jamaica Inn, on Bodmin Moor, famed for Daphne du Maurier’s novel, I’m somewhat cynical about how some authors get deified. Having fifty coachloads of tourists visit a building every day, just because it was used as the location for a story is an odd way of showing devotion. In the UK, similar things occur with the Brontës, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw and Wordsworth. Whole tourist industries depend of people wanting to visit the homes of writers and places where they set their books, even if the tourists haven’t read the novel and only vaguely remember the film adaptation.
From time to time, an auction lot will receive publicity in the media, as being the desk of a famous writer, and some of them go for eye-watering prices.
Writer’s pens are similarly revered.
All of this glorification of buildings, working tools, personal possessions, and even body parts and death masks, made me wonder what the hell I could leave behind for posterity—assuming, of course, that my Cornish Detective series brings me adulation!
Perhaps the scraps of card, that I cut from teabag and cereal boxes, to make on-the-fly notes about my WIP would be endlessly fascinating….How about the cooling cradle, that’s kept my ancient laptop functioning for nine years? My faded plastic library card has helped to preserve my sanity and being Cornwall Libraries, it carries an attractive photo of an abandoned engine house.
Getting personal, taking a death mask of my fizzog would be tricky, owing to beard and moustache, though my hands have been praised, by various girlfriends, for being attractive, and they sure do a lot of typing. My skin is as wrinkled as crumpled tissue paper, these days, and I wonder if the impressive scars (from fights and workshop accidents) would show? Failing that, I could break out the Viagra and go the Plaster Caster route…it’d be something for visitors to hang their coats on!
What literary relic would you leave to your adoring fans and academic scholars?
Keat’s death mask: sold at auction in 1996 for £16,100.