Literature about Manors

Escape to the countryside with a good read

Photos and  Text by Annika Kiehn, June 2021

Summer holidays! Time to relax with a proper book. If you wish to escape to the countryside, even if you are big city-hopping or feel like you want to dive deeper into the topic of Baltic manors, let me recommend you some of the most interesting books I could find written in a language – as that should suit nearly everyone equally. Find out about how the manorscape developed or follow the adventure of space pioneers, who are in the midst of a restoration process.

Here is my personal top five list of manor literature:

1. Chateau de Gudanes – A French Fairy Tale told by an Australian couple

This book is a declaration of love to an old chateau in Southern France: The Waters family from Western Australia retells their magical story of how they purchased and re-built the Chateau de Gudanes, which is nested in the Pyrenees mountains near the Spanish Border. Built in the mid 1700s, the former glorious house of the noble family de Salles, was an abandoned wreck until the Waters decided to give her the urgently needed TLC (Tender, Love and Care). Restoring a historic beauty of this size and damage is a nerve-wracking and magical adventure likewise. Outsiders might consider it as pure madness. This thoughtful collected memoir allows the reader detailed insights of a wearing journey to put new life into the French Grand Dame. You read of three-year-long struggles with bureaucracy, discovering bottomless holes in the ground, or tracing back the houses’ history with the treasures in a hidden suitcase. The way, Karina Waters retells their emotions, which switch from despair to endless happiness, makes you want to jump of your sofa to book a stay there immediately. Now you might think: Oh, but this is not a manor and it is also in France and not around the Baltic Sea– let me tell you: Rebuilding an old house follows more or less the same procedure, no matter what type of house it actually is. So if you are curious to get to know the real efforts and joys or maybe even dream of finding your own Manor/Chateau-Love story, grab a copy of this book, switch off your phone and indulge in this fairytale, which was never written before with this kind of intensity.

2.  All for nothing (German „Alles umsonst“) – A prose novel by Walter Kempowski

I stumpled upon this epic novel through an article of the New Yorker from 2018, which praised this piece of literature as an exceptional one. It made me curious, not only because it was written by the German author Walter Kempowski, who was born and spent his early years in Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Moreover, the American James Wood writes, that he could have never thought that it was possible, that a German author would be able to create such an unbiased book about Germanys collaps at the end of the Second World War. Kempowskis novel, which was translated into English in 2015, retells the last days at the fictious setting of manor Georgenhof in East Prussia, which is located in todays Poland. The story is set in 1945, where the wealthy Globig family wraps itself from the horrors of the War. Despite the chaos around them, they happen to uphold their normal life until a stranger arrives at their door and things become complicated. It is one of the rare pieces, which does not recall the dark moments of escape in documentary style, but in a prose, which makes the reader feel the despair, the last bits of hope, the sadness of knowing that nothing will ever be same again with an unexpected sensitivity and beauty. And that is why this novel hit the nerve of a worldwide readership: Emotions help us to understand history. The plot of „All for nothing“ might not be airy at all, but Walter Kempowskis iconic talent to draw a mosaic of memory, world-history facts and fiction makes it a true good read – even in summer.

3. On the Estate – Memories of Pre-Revolution Russia by Mariamna Davidoff

This book holds the wonderful treasure of vivid memories of a former Russian manor owner, Lady Mariamna Davidoff. Born in 1871 in Russia, she emigrated to France in 1919 where she later recalled her upbringing on the their manor. It was on the initiative of her cousin Olga Davidoff Dax, who kindly forced her to collect these rare and authentic episodes from a lost time of Pre-Revolutionary Russia. The contributing watercolor paintings are also from Marimna, as she was a trained artist. The result is a firsthand account of a way of life in Tsarist Russia. The Thames and Hudsons publishing house came up with a new edition from 2011, which is really worth getting, let alone for the nice drawings and as a piece of history, told in an unpretentious and charming way.

4. The development of Castles and Manors Houses in the Baltic Sea Region – Sabine Bock, Jana Olschewski and Kilian Heck

If you like to take a more scientific and historic interest in European Heritage, you might want to draw your attention to the components of this anthology. The content derives from all Northern Baltic countries as a result of an international conference by the Alfred Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg Greifswald held in October 2012. So you will find scientific essays which respond to the regions we are promoting with the South Baltic Manor-EU-Project. Expand your expertise with essays on „Manor-house building and economic growth in Sweden in the eightteenth and ninetheenth century“, „The second life of castles: Memory and reconstruction of historic castles in modern Lithuania“ or notes on „Historic residences of the Puck/Putzig region and Wejherowo/Neustadt region, their present condition, function and surroundings“. This book will introduce you to basic knowledge about the manorial landscape around the Baltic Sea and help you to understand the collective heritage, which is so worth protecting and highlighting.

5. The Rise of Heritage Tourism – Touring and publizing English Country houses by Jocelyn Anderson

Maybe not the most light-hearted work on country houses but definitely one of the most profound, this book takes an investigative look at the rise of the popularity of country houses in England. Author Dr. Jocelyn Anderson, an art historian based in Toronto, took a nine year long research to uncover the meaning and role of architecture and art in the countryside as a sort of „open-air-museum“ – reflecting the craftship, art and gardening skills of menkind. But also highlights, how this popularity of country houses had an immense impact on infrastructure and the development of taverns and inns, the building of roads – and a new perspective of income. „In 2011″, she states, “the heritage tourism had generated billions of pounds for the UK Economy, representing 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).“* The National Trust, which maintains more than 350 historic houses with the help of 4,5 Million members and 62 000 volunteers, has proven a remarkable concept of preserving history and identity for the people. As the author points out at the very beginning „the country house is the most familiar symbol of our national heritage. By a mystical process of identification the country house becomes the nation.“*² Andersons book is an intensive study which proves the importance of heritage tourism of the 18th century and it’s rolemodel-character for todays tourism. A look at the past can serve creating new ideas for the future. Interesting for anyone, who like to get inspired by the legacies of the Eightteenth-Century-Country-House-Tourism for the visitor of today. The book is currently quite expensive (approx. 100 British Pounds) but it will be published as paperback in March 2022 for a more affordable price.

*Jocelyn Anderson: Touring and publizing English Country houses. Page 2 2. *² Jocelyn Anderson: Touring and publizing English Country houses. Page 2-3

Speaking of heritage tourism: Have you planned your manor visiting route for summer yet? If you are keen to dive into the flair of historic houses, join our Baltic Manor Festival! Several houses open up their doors for a unique timetravel-journey. See for Sweden and Denmark in August, you’ll find more details on our Website.