Decorating a room of one’s own

Susan Harlan

As a professor of English at Wake Forest University, it is perhaps unsurprising that alumna Susan Harlan (MA Shakespeare Studies, 2002) is a lifelong fan of literary classics such as Jane Eyre, Frankenstein and the many other notable works that line bookshelves across the world.

Alongside her love of literature, Susan is also enamoured with art and design, and her latest book, Decorating a Room of One’s Own, brings together her great loves of literature and design. With tongue-in cheek humour and illustrations by Becca Stadtlander, the book pokes gentle fun at modern designer trends, and uses the type of language more commonly found in design blogs.

Decorating a room of one's own

‘I wanted to bring together my life as an English professor, and as a reader – and my love of homes and home decor culture. The book started with Jane Eyre. I was watching a film adaptation one night and thinking about the house that was used as Thornfield Hall in that movie, and also my love of home design sites like Apartment Therapy, which had actually done a House Tour (a regular feature on their site) of my house when I moved into it. I thought it would be funny to think about Jane Eyre giving a kind of similar tour of Thornfield Hall, and mapping that whole narrative of ‘what your house means to you’ onto this really Gothic, terrible space.

'I decided to keep going, thinking about which houses in literature are my favourites, and it turned into a regular column, at the [now defunct feminist website] The Toast. Writers can be sort of obsessed with their living spaces (maybe because we tend to spend a lot of time in them?), so this book was a way of thinking about the relationship between my living space and my reading life, but thinking about it humorously. And it’s a way of thinking about homes in classic works of literature and how important (and sometimes absurd) they are. Literary homes tell us about characters, the past and about class and about gender. They tell us about just about everything.’

Published by Abrams, you can find Decorating a Room of One’s Own online and in stores across the UK and US.