Published February 6th, 2017
Over the past two centuries neutral Switzerland has acted as a haven to those seeking shelter from two world wars, taxes, even celebrity. Among the outsiders who found rest and refuge in the Alpine landscape have been the myriad authors who were drawn to the country for its promise of peace and the freedom to create. In his new book The Gilded Chalet, Padraig Rooney explores the allure of Switzerland through the artists and writers who lived and worked within its protective borders.
After a moving introduction about his own affinity for the Swiss, Rooney, who has lived in Switzerland for fifteen years and teaches at the International School Basel, begins his literary history with Rousseau, whose novel Julie he credits as having “put a landscape on the map.” Rooney reveals Rousseau’s influence on writers throughout his book—in particular, the Romantics: Lord Byron, whose name can be seen carved into a column of the prison at Chateau de Chillon in Montreux, Percy Shelly and his wife Mary, who used the sublime beauty and terror of the Swiss Alps as the backdrop for her novel Frankenstein.
Rooney explores the culture of the sanatorium through The Magic Mountain and the many writers, including literary geniuses Rilke, Mann and Nabokov, who arrived in search of rest cures and healing waters. But he also follows in the footsteps of the detectives and spies conjured by authors like Conan Doyle and le Carré, and his book is populated with lesser-known writers and genres that flourished within the protective shadow of the Alps. In addition to the many émigrés who came to Switzerland, Rooney profiles the famous Swiss writers who traveled away from their home country, among them Maillart, Eberhardt, Schwarzenback and Bouvier.
Full of story and scandal, Rooney’s amusing guide profiles 200 years of outstanding works of literature produced in Switzerland. From the mischief of the Romantic poets to the extended holidays of Hemingway and Fitzgerald to the invention of “Swiss Noir,” Rooney reveals Switzerland’s lasting influence on great literature, placing a fascinating landscape back on the literary map.