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I'm currently doing some research on E. A. Poe's Landor's Cottage (1849).

This short story—really a description by an unnamed narrator of an ideal(ized) locale—is "a pendant to 'The Domain of Arnheim'", another short story by Poe (1847), in which the author describes the philosophies and character of Ellison, a keen and wealthy man who endeavours to use landscaping as a form of art and creates a magnificent landscape garden, which the second part of the story describes in some detail.

Are there indications that either story is set in or based on (a) real-life location(s)?
I am mainly interested in those of Landor's Cottage, but I think the location of Arnheim could help with that.


  • I am aware of the comparison between the cottage of Landor and Fordham Cottage in The Bronx, but I am currently more interested in any rural influences.
    Landor's Cottage does make references to a general area in a New York county:

    • ".. a pedestrian trip [..] through one or two of the river counties of New York .."

    • ".. the sweet village of B- .."

    • ".. but grass such as we seldom see out of England .."

    • ".. made its devious and unnoticed way to the Hudson."

    But I wonder if there is any indication of a more precise area, if, for example, the valley described is an existing (be it embellished) one.
    This notated transcript of the story narrows the area down slightly ("he presumably walked from Fordham — in Westchester County in his day — through Putnam County on its north and into Dutchess County, where Poughkeepsie is situated"), but this still is too vague for my purposes.*

  • As for The Domain of Arnheim, the narrator assumes the reader has heard of 'Arnheim':

    "[..] we found a locality with which Ellison professed himself satisfied. It is, of course, needless to say where was the locality. The late death of my friend, in causing his domain to be thrown open to certain classes of visiters, has given to Arnheim a species of secret and subdued if not solemn celebrity, similar in kind, although infinitely superior in degree, to that which so long distinguished Fonthill."

    This 'Fonthill', according to notes found in this transcript, could be Fonthill, Wiltshire, or Fonthill Castle, also in The Bronx, but neither says anything about the landscaped domain.


By way of an update: the 2022 film The Pale Blue Eye, like the book by Louis Bayard it is based on, places the cottage of the protagonist Landor in Buttermilk Falls, which I assume it is the one south of Nyack (and which could make "the sweet village of B-" the hamlet Blauvelt).
It is heavily implied (at least in the film) that its protagonist is indeed the same Landor as in Landor's Cottage. Besides the name, the character Poe points out his inclination to immortalize the man in a "poem"; the latter has a daughter (albeit called Mathilda, and not Annie, as in the story); and Landor is referred to as a "cottager", once again bringing the attention to his dwelling.

For the filming of the cottage they used Davis Hollow Cabin in Portersville, PA, which is quite different from the cottage described in the short story.


  • For those interested: besides a general fascination for this story, I'm meaning to recreate the valley and surroundings mentioned in Landor's Cottage in Unity, and am looking for a realistic heightmap.
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    A real-location question is almost an automatic +1 from me, and I think I've never seen one so well-researched as this. Welcome to Literature!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 6, 2022 at 10:27

1 Answer 1

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To answer part of the question, I know nothing about the possible sources for an idealized cottage, but am interested in fabulous mansions and palaces, so I have something to say about the source of the Domain of Arnheim.

Ellison's wealth comes from an inheritance from a distant ancestor which had accumulated compound interest for about a hundred years. This was based on the famous Thellusson Will of 1797, which was setled in 1859. Thellusson's estate was over 700,000 pounds in 1797, and it was calclulated it could reach 14,000,000 pounds by the time it was settled. Due to mismanagement and lawsuits,the estate was actully litte more than the original amount when it was settled in 1859.

Charles Sabiene Thellusson, one of the eventual heirs, used his share to build a new mansion, Brodsworth Hall, on his country estate. The mansion and its gardens are quite impressive, but hardly legendary.

But in the story Ellison inherits a vastly greater sum. Poe says that even at three percent interest, the income would be 13,500,000 dollars per year. That makes the total wealth 450,000,000 dollars. in 1846 dollars. That would be about $ 14,058,557,280.12 in 2021 dollars according ot this inflation calculator.

https://westegg.com/inflation/infl.cgi?money=450000000&first=1846&final=2021#

A vast sum, but there are some billionaires much wealthier than that, and it is hardly equal to a major government project these days.

But anyway Ellison was able to afford a vast landscaping project to create a perfect (according to Ellison's standards) landscape and a fabulous mansion within that landscape. And what sort of landsape and mansion could have had such a tremendous reputation in Poe's era that it might be the inspiration for the much greater Domain of Arnheim.

This 'Fonthill', according to notes found in this transcript, could be Fonthill, Wiltshire, or Fonthill Castle, also in The Bronx, but neither says anything about the landscaped domain.

Fonthill Castle, the Bronx is a worthy gothic mansion, but neither it or the other Fonthill, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (built 1908-12) are anywhere near as legendary as any sort of inspiration for the Domain of Arnheim would be.

Besides, Fonthill Castle, the Bronx, was build in 1852 according to Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fonthill_Castle_and_the_Administration_Building_of_the_College_of_Mount_St._Vincent

and Poe died in 1849.

So the Fonthill which Arnheim so grealy exceeds can only be the legendary Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire, and its landscaped estate.

The Fonthill estate and neighoring properties have had many different Fonthill mansions built on them, each falling victim to various misfortunes.

William Thomas Beckford (1760-1844) was an eccentric and extremely wealthy (though not nearly as wealthy as Ellison) English gentleman, who gained literary fame from his gothic novel Vathek (1786). After a sexual scandal in 1784, Beckford traveled in Europe for years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Beckford_(novelist)

Returning to Fonthill in the 1790s, Beckford had a 6 mile wall built around his estate to keep out hunters and trespassers, and built the legendary Fonthill Abbey from 1796 to 1813 to live in and house his collections of books and art. Fonthill Abbey was not the largest British mansion ever, or even in that era, but it had possilby the most spectacular design of any, and the distant views of it sparked intense curiosity and many legends.

Beckford also had massive landscaping work done on his estate, turning it into as sublime and picturesque a landscape as he could create, like Ellison but on a smaller scale.

Beckford only invited his employees and his family members to Fonthill, while he lived there, except that once he had Admiral Nelson and Lady Hamilton, fellow social outcasts due to their scandulous affair, visit. Similarly, nobody could visit Arnheim until after Ellison's death.

Financial problems forced Beckford to sell Fonthill in 1822 and the great central tower collapsed for the third and final time in 1825, adding to the legend of Fonthill.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fonthill_Abbey

And I hope that is enough to show that Poe was partially motivated to out do the Fonthill Abbey estate in his description of the Domain of Arnheim.

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Oct 9, 2022 at 16:48
  • Very good point, but I feel this is a comment more than an answer.
    – Joachim
    Oct 9, 2022 at 18:14
  • "So the Fonthill which Arnheim so grealy exceeds can only be the legendary Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire, and its landscaped estate." Unless Poe based it on something else entirely. The two Fonthills I mentioned were a footnote on the linked website, and not in any way exhaustive or authoritative, but the 'abbey' does sound like a likely source of inspiration. Thank you.
    – Joachim
    Oct 12, 2022 at 0:06
  • @Poe might have based Arnheim on the Royal Pvillion at Brighton, for example, but it was on small grounds in a town, and the Prince Regent was alway throwing parties for his friends, and so it wasn't a mysteriious and legendary place. Beckford only invited his employees and his family members to Fonthill, whle he lived thee - except that once he had Admiral Nelson and Lady Hamilton, fellow social outcasts due otheir affair, come visit. Similarly, nobody could visit Arnheim until after Ellison's death. Oct 13, 2022 at 3:50

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