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The Carlyles at Home

by Thea Holme
Persephone book no:

31 32 33

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155226

The Carlyles at Home is about Thomas and Jane Carlyle's life together at 5 (now 24) Cheyne Row in Chelsea in London was written by Thea Holmes, a former actress who was then living there as co-custodian of the house with her husband (it is now run by the National Trust). Her book evokes everyday life from the day the Carlyles moved in, in 1834, until Jane's death in 1866.

When The Carlyles at Home was first published in 1965, VS Pritchett wrote that 'The Carlyles' dour joy in the daily battle of study and kitchen is the making of Thea Holme's detailed account of housekeeping in Cheyne Row. No stove, cooking by candlelight, a state of civil war about doors and windows: he can't bear them closed, she freezes in the draughts.' Each of the eleven chapters describes different aspects of the house, whether it is yet another builders' drama or a maid giving birth in the china closet while 'Mr Carlyle was taking tea in the dining-room with Miss Jewsbury talking to him!!! Just a thin small door between!' 

The door is seen, open, on the endpapers reproducing 'A Chelsea Interior', painted to be 'amazingly interesting to Posterity a hundred years hence'. The New Statesman called this 'a delightful reissue', the Scotsman 'a small, intimate book which deals neatly and sympathetically with the Carlyles' life in Chelsea'. The Carlyles at Home, said the Independent on Sunday, is 'replete with incident, whether in the form of difficult, demanding neighbours, sullen maids, itinerant geniuses or constant artistic and financial worries.'

To listen to 'The First Celebrity Couple', an item about the Carlyles, go to Woman's Hour.


'A Chelsea Interior' Robert Tait 1857 © The National Trust

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