A house in London that provided a backdrop for one of the most passionate affairs in literary history, between the French 19th century poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, is to be saved to honour them. A host of prominent figures, including the author Julian Barnes, the comedian Stephen Fry, the singer Patti Smith and the actor Simon Callow, have backed a campaign to save the house in Camden.
The romantic poets escaped to London in 1872, after it became known in Paris society that they were having an affair. It caused a scandal in Paris not only because Verlaine was married, but also because he was considerably older than his boyfriend. Rimbaud was just 17 when they eloped to London. While living at the house in Royal College Street they produced some of their most influential works.
In recent years the building had been left unused and fallen into disrepair. Formerly owned by the Royal Veterinary College, it was sold to a property developer at the beginning of this year. Campaigners feared that the Georgian home would be gutted and turned into modern flats. But a wealthy admirer of Rimbaud‘s work put up the money to save the building and turn it into a poetry centre in honour of the pair.
Their house in London has an important role in the poets‘ history. The end of their relationship in London has gone down in literary legend for its absurdity. It began with an argument over a kipper and ended after a chase to Belgium where Verlaine, in a drunken rage, shot his lover in the wrist. The influence of the two poets extended far beyond their century. Their work has been seen as the precursor to the great modernists of the 20th century, such as Picasso, T S Eliot and Joyce; and the end of their love affair even made it into a Bob Dylan song. Now the site of their last days together is to be become a place for poets to meet, research and perform. The conversion into a cultural centre is being pioneered by the charity Poets in the City, which has been getting backing from big financiers to create an archive of work, a performance space, and a café where artists can meet.