|Max Gate, the home of Thomas Hardy, designed by Hardy and built by his brother..|
How I Built Myself a House is a short story by Thomas Hardy and it is his first published work, published in 'Chamber's Journal' in 1865. It reads like an essay or memoir, telling the story of John and Sophia who live in a very small house in the suburbs of London. It begins,
My wife Sophia, myself, and the beginning of a happy line, formerly lived in the suburbs of London, in the sort of house called a Highly Desirable Semi-detached Villa. But in reality our residence was the very opposite of what we wished it to be. We had no room for our friends when they visited us, and we were obliged to keep our coals out of doors in a heap against the back-wall. If we managed to squeeze a few acquaintances round our table to dinner, there was very great difficulty in serving it; and on such occasions the maid, for want of sideboard room, would take to putting the dishes in the staircase, or on stools and chairs in the passage, so that if anybody else came after we had sat down, he usually went away again, disgusted at seeing the remains of what we had already got through standing in these places, and perhaps the celery waiting in a corner hard by. It was therefore only natural that on wet days, chimney-sweepings, and those cleaning times when chairs may be seen with their legs upwards, a tub blocking a doorway, and yourself walking about edgeways among the things, we called the villa hard names, and that we resolved to escape from it as soon as it would be politic, in a monetary sense, to carry out a notion which had long been in our minds.
This "notion" was to build their own house:
The new residence was to be right and proper in every respect. It was to be of some mysterious size and proportion, which would make us both peculiarly happy ever afterwards—that had always been a settled thing. It was neither to cost too much nor too little, but just enough to fitly inaugurate the new happiness. Its situation was to be in a healthy spot, on a stratum of dry gravel, about ninety feet above the springs. There were to be trees to the north, and a pretty view to the south. It was also to be easily accessible by rail.
And that they do: Hardy, once an architect, describes the progress: the plans, and most importantly, the attempt to come up with one plan, combining the wishes of John, Sophia, and the architect. Then there is the problem of the price, then the building: John, for example, writes of being on the scaffold terrified of his life, asking the builders if it is indeed safe to be up there (a builder reassures him, "'But it won't break down if we walk without springing, and don't sneeze, though the mortar-boy's hooping-cough was strong enough in my poor brother Jim's case,' he continued abstractedly, as if he himself possessed several necks, and could afford to break one or two.") After all of that, there is the question of the "extras" -
... a sink in the scullery, a rain-water tank and a pump, a trap-door into the roof, a scraper, a weather-cock and four letters, ventilators in the nursery, same in the kitchen, all of which worked vigorously enough, but the wrong way; patent remarkable bell-pulls; a royal letters extraordinary kitchen-range, which it would cost exactly three pence three—farthings to keep a fire in for twelve hours, and yet cook any joint in any way, warm up what was left yesterday, boil the vegetables, and do the ironing.Finally, the finished product, and, of course, the things that were forgotten.
How I Built Myself a House was written to amuse Hardy's friends, and it certainly is a funny piece, more The Diary of a Nobody than, say, Jude the Obscure! It was rather charming too, and of course very interesting as it was his first published work (for which he got £3, 15s). I very much enjoyed it and recommend everyone has a look at it, it's very short and can be found online here.