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Literary stars: 14 famous authors inspired by Surrey

It's World Book Day on Thursday and to celebrate Surrey's great literary history we've turned back the pages to look at 14 famous authors - from Aldous Huxley to Louis de Bernières and Jane Austen - who have lived and found inspiration here.

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Aldous Huxley (1895-1963)

The author of Brave New World author was born in Godalming to Leonard Huxley, the schoolmaster at Charterhouse, and Julia Prior, who founded Prior’s Field School. The family lived in the pretty village of Compton. He was educated by his mother for a while, before going on to Eton and then Oxford University. He taught French at Eton for a short period (fun fact: George Orwell was on of his pupils). Huxley wrote more than 50 books during his life time and was also a contributor to Vanity Fair and British Vogue magazine. His later years were spent in California, where he died in the early Sixties aged 69. His ashes, though, were returned to the family grave at Compton and are still there today.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

The Irish playwright and political activist lived for a time at Blen Cathra in Hindhead, which you’ll now know better as St Edmund’s School. It is here that he wrote Caesar and Cleopatra in 1898 which was performed in New York in 1906 and in London the following year. He is probably most famous for Pygmalion.

Louis de Bernières (born 1954)

Best known for his fourth book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which went on to become a major Hollywood film starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, de Bernières grew up in Hambledon in the 1960s and 70s. His book, Nothwithstanding: Stories from an English Village (2009), is based on Hambledon. He was living in Earlsfield near Wimbledon, and working as a supply teacher, when he wrote Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which was published in 1984. His name is inherited from French Huguenot forefathers.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

While Charles Dickens was born in Hampshire and lived much of his life in Chatham, Kent, he was also an occasional visitor to Surrey throughout his life. One of his most famous works Paperwick Papers is believed to have been written while he was staying at the White Horse Hotel in Dorking and was possibly based on the old King’s Head in Dorking. He also has connections to Richmond, having stayed at the Star and Garter Hotel on Richmond Hill when Nicholas Nickleby was first published. It was to become a favourite retreat for the author. In 1938, Dickens spent the summer in Twickenham – he was writing Oliver Twist at the time, and the following year he spent the summer in Petersham.

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

While the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland never actually lived permanently in Guildford himself, he has strong connections to the town having set up home here at The Chestnuts – located just outside Guildford Castle – for his six sisters. Carroll – real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – was a regular visitor and spent several weeks in Guildford with his sisters every Christmas. He is buried in Mount Cemetery, where an aunt and several of his sisters are also buried.

PG Wodehouse (1881-1975)

The man who created Bertie Wooster and his faithful manservant Jeeves – Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was born in Guildford, arriving early, when his mother was there visiting her sister. His father was a magistrate based in Hong Kong at the time, and after being baptised at the St Nicolas Parish Church in Guildford, he returned to Hong Kong with his mother. Wodehouse was sent back to England with his brothers when he was two and was brought up by an English nanny, not seeing much of his parents after that. He went to school at Elmhurst School for Boys in South Croydon for a while and later spent six years at Dulwich College. In the 1920s, he played golf at the Addington Golf Club near Croydon, and famously wrote in preface of his short story The Heart of a Goof – “Anyone wishing to write to the author should address all correspondence to: PG Wodehouse, c/o the 6th bunker, The Addington Golf Club, Croydon, Surrey.” Later he moved to America, which is

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

While Jane Austen is mostly known for her Hampshire connections along with Bath and Kent, she also spent time in Surrey. Emma, arguably her most famous novel was written when she was staying at Great Bookham – where her godfather, the Reverend Samuel Cooke, lived with his family. Unsurprisingly, she drew inspiration from the surrounding area -most notably the picnic outing on Box Hill in Emma. Her latter books include many references to Surrey, and her unfinished novel, The Watsons, is said to be set in Dorking.

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Alfred Lord Tennyson lived the last 25 years of his life at Aldworth House in Haslemere, producing some of his best poetry during these years. The house, designed for Tennyson by St James Knowles as a summer escape, was near the slopes of Blackdown on the Surrey / Sussex border which Tennyson is said to have climbed when he was seeking inspiration. He was a close friend of GF Watts – and the cast of a statue of Tennyson is on permanent display at Watts Gallery.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

The creator of quite probably the most famous detective in the world, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived at Undershaw in Hindhead from 1897 to 1907. His most famous Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles was written while he was living there. Underwood is now the location of the Stepping Stones School. Two of Conan Doyle’s novels, Sir Nigel and The White Company, are set in Surrey.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Clive Staples Lewis – creator of Narnia – spent several pivotal years living in Surrey when he was under the private tutelage of a former grammar school headmaster named William T. Kirkpatrick. It was from the years 1914 to 1917 – and he boarded with the Kirkpatrick family at Great Bookham. Surrey made a big impression on the young student – he devotes an entire chapter to his time here in his 1955 autobiography Surprised by Joy, with mentions of frosty sunsets over the Hog’s Back, walks on Leith Hill and the views from Polesden Lacey over the valley between Leatherhead and Dorking. 

E.M. Forster (1879-1970)

Born in London and educated at Tonbridge in Kent he moved to Weybridge with his mother when he was 25. All of six of his novels were written while he lived in Weybridge including the classics A Passage to India, Howard’s End and A Room with a View. He later moved to Abinger Hammer, where he lived form 1925 until his mother’s death in 1945. His final years were spent in Cambridge.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946)

Herbert George Wells moved to Woking with his second wife Amy just before his 30th birthday, and it’s during his short time here the author was perhaps at his most creative and productive. In just 18 months he wrote The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, finished The Island of Doctor Moreau, wrote and published The Wonderful Visit and The Wheels of Chance. He also started writing When the Sleeper Wakes and Love and Mr Lewisham. The War of the Worlds, of course, features numerous mentions of Surrey locations including Horsell Common. He moved from Woking to Worcester Park, near Kingston, for two years before settling in Sandgate on the Kent coast.

J.M. Barrie (1860-1937)

A country home in Tilford – Black Lake Cottage – was the inspiration for JM Barrie’s most famous story Peter Pan. The author and playwright owned the estate, which sits on the edge of Bourne Wood, and spent his summers here from 1901 to 1908. The Llewelyn-Davies boys, who inspired the characters in Peter Pan, spent time with Barrie at the estate.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)

The author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders was educated for five years in Dorking, attending a boarding school for non-conformists run by the Rev James Fisher.

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