Literature about Manors

Escape to the countryside with a good read

Photos and Words by Annika Kiehn, June 2021

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

My personal top five manor literature includes the following:

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

This book is a declaration of love for a historic chateau in Southern France: The Waters family from Western Australia retells their enchanted story of acquiring, restoring, and rebuilding the Chateau de Gudanes, which is nestled in the Pyrenees mountains near the Spanish border. Built in the mid-1700s, the former glorious home of the noble family de Salles lay abandoned until the Waters decided to give her the much-needed TLC (Tender, Love, and Care). Restoring a historic beauty of this magnitude and extent of damage is a similarly nerve-wracking and magical adventure. Outsiders may regard it as pure madness. This thoughtfully compiled memoir provides detailed insights into a wearing journey to breathe 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 recounts their emotions, which switch from despair to endless happiness, makes you want to leap from your sofa and immediately book a stay there. Now you may be thinking, “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 a similar procedure regardless of the type of house. So, if you are curious to learn about the true efforts and joys, or even if you wish to find your own Manor/Chateau-Love story, grab a copy of this book, switch off your phone, and indulge in this fairytale, which has never been written before with this level of intensity.

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

I stumbled upon this epic novel through an article in the New Yorker from 2018, which lauded it as an exceptional work of literature. It piqued my interest, not least because it was written by the German author, Walter Kempowski, who was born and raised in Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Moreover, the American James Wood writes that he could never have imagined that a German author could write such an unbiased book about Germany’s collapse at the end of the Second World War. Kempowski’s novel, which was translated into English in 2015, recounts the last days in the fictitious setting of manor Georgenhof in East Prussia, which is located in today’s Poland. The story was set in 1945, where the wealthy Globig family wraps itself from the horrors of the War. Despite the chaos around them, they manage to maintain a normal life until a stranger arrives at their door, and things become complicated. It is one of the rare pieces that does not recall the dark moments of escape in documentary style, but rather in prose that makes the reader feel the despair, the last vestiges of hope, the sadness of knowing that nothing will ever be the same again, with an unexpected sensitivity and beauty. That is why this novel struck a chord with a global readership: emotions help us to understand history. While the plot of “All for nothing” might not be airy at all, Walter Kempowski’s iconic talent for drawing a mosaic of memory, world history facts, and fiction makes it a truly good read—even in summer.

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

This book holds the wonderful treasure trove of vivid memories of Lady Mariamna Davidoff, a former Russian manor owner. She was born in Russia in 1871 and emigrated to France in 1919, where she later recalled her upbringing on their manor. It was at her cousin Olga Davidoff Dax’s insistence that she collect these rare and authentic episodes from a lost time in pre-Revolutionary Russia. In addition, the contributing watercolor paintings are by Marimna, as she was a trained artist. The result is a first-hand account of a way of life in Tsarist Russia. The Thames and Hudson publishing house came up with a new edition in 2011, which is well worth picking up, if only for the lovely illustrations 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 historical interest in European heritage, you may wish to focus on the components of this anthology. The content was gathered from all Northern Baltic countries due to an international conference held in October 2012 by Alfred Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg Greifswald. Thus, you will find scientific essays that respond to the regions we promote with the South Baltic Manor-EU Project. Expand your expertise with essays on “Manor house building and economic growth in Sweden in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” “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 understand the collective heritage that is worth protecting and highlighting.

5. The Rise of Heritage Tourism – Touring and publicizing England’s Country Houses by Jocelyn Anderson 

Perhaps not the most lighthearted 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, spent nine years researching the meaning and role of architecture and art in the countryside as a sort of “open-air museum” reflecting the crafts, art, and gardening skills of mankind. However, it demonstrates how this popularity of country houses had an immense impact on infrastructure, the development of taverns and inns, and the construction of roads—a new perspective on income. “In 2011,” she states, “heritage tourism generated billions of pounds for the UK economy, representing 2% 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 established a remarkable model for preserving people’s history and identity. 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 Anderson’s book is an intensive study that proves the importance of heritage tourism of the 18th century and its role as a model for today’s tourism. A look at the past can serve to create new ideas for the future. It is interesting for anyone who likes to get inspired by the legacies of eighteenth-century country-house tourism for today’s visitors. The book is currently quite expensive (approx. 100 British Pounds); however, a paperback edition will be released in March 2022 at a more affordable price.

*Jocelyn Anderson: Touring and publicizing England’s Country houses. Page 2 2. *² Jocelyn Anderson: Touring and publicizing England’s Country houses. Page 2-3

Speaking of heritage tourism: Have you planned your summer manor visit itinerary yet? If you are keen on diving into the flair of historic houses, come to our Baltic Manor Festival! Several houses open up their doors for a unique time travel adventure. See our website for more information on Sweden and Denmark in August.