Exploring the Literary Legacy of Flames and Hearth

In the winter, curled up in front of a fireplace, many of us read our favorite books to pass the long grey days and long winter nights. But have you ever thought about fireplaces in those books? With that in mind, let's take a look at Fireplace Poetry: Exploring the Literary Legacy of Flames and Hearth.

The Legends Born of the Fire

From our earliest days, people have gathered around fires. It was both a source of warmth and protection from creatures of the night seeking to invade a troglodyte cave. Before the written word, people sat around fires and repeated oral histories, and some made cave paintings to record that history by firelight; those works still exist in French caves today. Fire was indeed the source that fueled the march toward civilization.

The ancient Egyptians used fire for things like cooking and metallurgy, and it was reflected in their hieroglyphics, many of which can be seen in museums and historic sites. The Egyptians also invented papyrus, so even though papyrus no longer exists, they probably wrote about fire.

The Phoenicians, the creators of our modern alphabet, were traders and colonizers and adopted the hearth into their lifestyle. Although very few of their writings still exist, we can assume they wrote about the hearth.

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The Hearth was a significant part of ancient Chinees culture and was written about often. Many of these works of literature and poetry still exist today. 

The ancient Greeks were fond not only of the fire but also of the hearth itself. They revered the hearth and its role in survival so much that Greek Mythology had the goddess of the hearth, Hestia. She was perhaps the first example of the hearth in literature. The use of the hearth spread across Europe in small, modest homes and sprawling castles. Monks often toiled to transcribe ancient works in Medieval times by the firelight of the hearth. Not only were hearths a source of heat and light, but they were also the gathering places of community to hear stories told. 

By the time of the Renaissance and the advent of the printing press, the hearth was included in more and more works. The mantles of that era were highly ornate, reflecting the emphasis on art and science of the time. Fireplaces became a status symbol based on their intricacies and made their way into many works.

In the Elizabethan era, Shakespeare's works often had fireplaces to set the mood in conversations or moments where a character reflected on something of significance or where victories in battle. He also used fire as a metaphor for evil. In Julis Caeser, Shakespeare has Porcia, the wife of Brutus, commit suicide by swallowing hot coal as per historical legend. He also wrote of the fires in purgatory. 

By the Victorian Times, the fireplace was commonplace in apartments, homes, and large buildings. Some homes boasted several fireplaces to provide heat to each room. It makes sense then that fireplaces often made appearances in Victorian literature. Dickens used fireplaces frequently in his work, as he did in A Christmas Carol when Marley visits Scrooge. Jane Austen often had her characters discuss events before a cozy hearth. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle nearly made the fireplace a character in the Sherlock Holmes stories with a knife jammed in the mantle to hold mail. It also boasted a skull, Holme's violin, various tobacco-related items, books, and a magnifying glass. Poe famously had the narrator of The Raven sitting in front of a fire lamenting his lost Lenore. Many other famous Victorian authors would use hearths as a symbol of family unity and the warmth of friendship.

By the time the twentieth century turned, fireplaces were ubiquitous in literature. That trend continued through the whole of the century. The Great Gatsby and Rebecca were two works where fireplaces were prominently featured. Harper Lee's, To Kill a Mocking Bird memorably featured a hearth as the focal point of the Finch household. Who could forget the numerous fireplaces in the Outlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining? 

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To Sum Up

Throughout recorded history, the hearth has been vital to survival, and that has been reflected in our literature. Even today, in the twenty-first century, the hearth is still desirable, especially in colder climates. So, it's likely that we can expect to read about fireplaces in poetry and literature for years to come.

Let Chimney Sweeps, Inc. Take Care of Your Hearth

If you want to keep your fireplace and chimney in good shape, servicing it is the best way to preserve it for years to come. If you are in the greater San Diego area, call us at 619-593-4020 or fill out our quick online contact form. We can ensure you have a cozy fire to curl up in front of with a good book.

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