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The Gilded Chalet

The Gilded Chalet

Author(s): Padraig Rooney

Location(s): Switzerland

Genre(s): Nonfiction

Era(s): Various



Rainy summer of 1816. Paparazzi train their telescopes across Lake Geneva on the hanky-panky of Byron, Shelley and their womenfolk. Mary Shelley is inspired to write Frankenstein. Byron diets and dashes off The Prisoner of Chillon while his doctor, ‘Pollydolly’, gives birth to The Vampyre. Percy Shelley almost drowns in the lake. Together they put Switzerland on the literary map.

From Caesar, Rousseau and the Romantics, from Conan Doyle to le Carré, Hesse and Highsmith writers have scratched their names on the Swiss chalet. In the nineteenth century they came for fresh air, fresh milk and the sublime scenery, escaping tuberculosis and smog. Switzerland became spa central, a place of health fads, luxury hotels and nude sunbathing. Sherlock Holmes fell to his death only to be resurrected. H. G. Wells thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Hermann Hesse had himself buried to the neck as a cure for alcoholism. Thomas Mann wrote The Magic Mountain and lusted after the sailor suits.

Neutral Switzerland became a haven in the twentieth century for Borges, Joyce, Remarque, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Nabokov and Highsmith. They wrote their classic works up some secluded valley, in a coldwater flat in Zurich or in a five-star hotel. The Gilded Chalet took them in and gave them a suite with a view.

Anarchists, spies and detectives came too. Sherlock Holmes, Maugham’s Ashenden, Fleming’s Bond, le Carré’s spooks and double agents. Glauser and Dürrenmatt invented Swiss noir – not a chocolate but a style. Behind the squeaky-clean façade, Swiss and foreign writers often found something rotten in the state. Laundered art and money, the world’s slush funds, daylight robbery.

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Lead Review

An excellent book about Switzerland. It isn’t the dull place you imagine, it has attracted lots of visitors in one shape or another. Lots of insight and history, brought to the reader with humour...

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