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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country in western Europe that includes four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

John Bellairs visited a half-dozen or so times over a thirty year period, at one point living in Bristol during late 1967.

Travels Abroad

Bellairs made his first visit to England in the early 1960s and it's hard to discern whether that overseas holiday sparked his Anglophilia or if this "affliction" was already full-blown at that point. His field of study was Elizabethan era literature and authors such as Shakespeare and Dickens dotted his bookshelves. Much like his fictional alter ego Professor Childermass, Bellairs more than a passing interest in British history and antiquity. Bits of English history and geography are found nestled into most of his books, including The Chessmen of Doom (1989), the Bristol-based The Secret of the Underground Room (1990), and the Bellairs-Strickland collaboration, The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder (1993).

Early Interests and Visits

On Bellairs's application for a teaching position in Gary in 1960, when asked what plans he had for "further formal education, research, [and] travel...", Bellairs writes "possible fellowships for study England.[1]"  How or if these fellowships were ever secured and what became of them is unknown.

One of Bellairs's first, if not the first, visits to England took place between December 1961 and January 1961.  Bellairs wrote Fitschens from England saying to "expect me for the wedding"; he did appear for their wedding that February[2].

Six-Month Stay in Bristol

In the autumn of 1966, Bellairs was less than a semester into his teaching position as Shimer College when the internal rumblings between the administration and faculty came to its head. Unsure of any positive future in Mount Carroll, Bellairs submitted a resignation that November. Perhaps a gradual disdain toward teaching and the enjoyment he had received from his first book, Saint Fidgeta and Other Parodies, weighed on him as he expressed in his resignation letter that he was "going to go to England to write for a year or so.[3]"

It made sense: Saint Fidgeta had been received warmly at Shimer (as had its "famous author") and now, out of graduate school, Bellairs found himself more interested in writing, including a new, short piece that would go on to become The Pedant and the Shuffly.  While possibly motivated by the hint of literary success, Bellairs's end-goal may not have been the glittering prospect of immense fame and riches but "the warmly glowing prospect of enough money to lead the literary life in some comfortable nook....[4]"  In June of 1967, following his departure from Shimer College - and in retrospect, the life he had known for the better part of the decade – Bellairs sail for England.

A Man seated reading at a Table in a Lofty Room (1967 postcard)

Postcard from London postmarked July 19, 1967, showing a painting in the National Gallery titled “A Man seated Reading at a Table in a Lofty Room.” The room is in shadow, except for sunlight falling on one wall. John has added a caption at the bottom: “If the light were better in here, I could read.”

There was of course the matter of where he would live; Bellairs claimed, in a 1967 letter, that he would "[live] in some bucolic retreat and [write] like hell.[5]" John Drew, a friend from Chicago and originally from England, remembers Bellairs asking about staying at his family's cottage in Farningham, Kent, about twenty miles southeast of London[6]. This lodging may not have worked out and it's unclear whether he visited Kent or the Drew family during his stay.

Bellairs also wrote that any loneliness abroad would "be relieved a bit by a contingent of Shimer students at Oxford.[5]" For years, the Mount Carroll campus allowed upperclassmen the chance to study abroad in conjunction with Oxford University. How many Shimer students and faculty in the Oxford program Bellairs actually knew is uncertain, but it would it be a chance to socialize and tell rousing tales of the 1966-67 school year. Leading the Oxford delegation at Rutland House was Harry L. Golding, who had been a popular ("garrulous," says Bellairs[6]) instructor in Mount Carroll in recent past. It was, in fact, Golding whom Bellairs had replaced as the head of McKee Hall.

He eventually settled in Bristol, and lodged at 13 Cotham Gardens[7], a boarding house owned and/or operated by a woman named Elizabeth Pimm. While there Bellairs made a friend in David Morris, described as a "very distinguished-looking older man" and who may have earned his living as a security guard in a factory or hotel – in short, "a job for which he had a uniform, but he was a committed amateur artist and traveler[8]."

Bellairs's original plan of a year overseas was cut in half when in January he returned to the United States on the Queen Elizabeth II[9]. Taking up residence in Boston, Bellairs explained his decision to his friends, including Bowen, of how the money didn't exactly pour in and told of "being cold and wretched in Bristol, constantly needing a shilling to put in the gas meter." Bowen believes he made the decision to come back when he was, to use an English expression, "cutting his suit to fit his cloth.[4]"

Of note is that Bellairs sailed to and from England for this journey. Bellairs acknowledges this was due to a fear of flying that he eventually overcame for his 1975 vacation: "and then familiarity breeds contempt.[10]"

1970s

John Bellairs (1975, Bristol)

John Bellairs photographed at Clifton College in the Bristol suburb of Clifton, and in front of the plaque commemorating Arthur Edward Jeune Collins and the the highest-ever recorded score in cricket in 1899 (1975).

Following a "big year last yr. dough-wise[11]", in the summer of 1975, John, Priscilla, and son, Frank, flew to England for a three-week vacation. "Twenty-two days of cathedral climbing, losing Frank, and we got stuck lengthwise in a canal boat near Chester," Bellairs wrote, adding that England is "now 2-3 times as expensive as in 1967.[11]" During this visit, Priscilla notes they visited Bristol where John met up with David Morris, who gave the them guided tours of Bath, Wells and Glastonbury[8].

1980s

Among Bellairs's interests were "...(when I can afford it) travel - I went to London twice last year.[12]"

Bellairs cited "a trip to London" as his favorite vacation in 1985: "I've been there six times and continue to admire the churches, museums and old-fashioned pubs.[13]"

Bellairs and his son, Frank, flew over in the summer of 1986 "in the midst of terrorism scares and when all the hotels were empty and there were no lines anywhere and had a lovely time.[10]"

At the end of his life, when asked why he went back to England so much, Bellairs said it was a "beautiful historic society and I have never learned to speak another language. The people are a lot more polite and easy to get along with than Americans.[10]"

References

  1. "Academic Record Form For Indiana University Center Faculty." (Jul. 23, 1960).
  2. Undated letter to Fitschens, sent from England (c.Dec. 1960-Jan. 1961).
  3. Correspondence from John Bellairs to Shimer College administration (Nov. 30, 1966).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Correspondence with Charles Bowen.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Correspondence from John Bellairs to Charles Bowen (Apr. 8, 1967).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Correspondence from John Bellairs to John Drew (undated, 1966-67).
  7. Correspondence with John Drew.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Correspondence with Priscilla Bellairs.
  9. Correspondence from John Bellairs to John Drew (Jan. 16, 1968).
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Author's Imagination Stuck at 10".  Haverhill Eagle-Tribune (Nov. 25, 1990).
  11. 11.0 11.1 Correspondence from John Bellairs to Alfred Myers (Dec. 1975).
  12. Correspondence from John Bellairs to Sharron McElmeel (1985).
  13. "John Bellairs's Favorites."  Haverhill Gazette (Dec. 28, 1985).

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