Musicians Bob Dylan and Patti Smith are being dragged into a fight to save one of literature's most debauched and disreputable love nests.
The dilapidated house in Camden, north London, was the backdrop for the absinthe drinking, drug-taking and scandalous affair between the French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine who lived there in the 19th century.
The home is now to be sold along with two adjoining houses, and campaigners fear it may be redeveloped to erase the house's literary link unless a sympathetic buyer is found. Rock literati Dylan and Smith, both admirers of the poets, have been approached to give muscle to the efforts to preserve the property.
Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine - cited as inspirations for artists such as the Doors frontman Jim Morrison and John Lennon as well as Smith and Dylan - became lovers in the 1870s and made their base in Camden, writing some of their most famous works as they lodged on the top floor of what is now a tatty, grime-coated house. Graham Greene is also said to have an association with 8 Royal College Street.
Among those fighting to save the four-storey property are the novelist Julian Barnes, actor Simon Callow, Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and the playwright Christopher Hampton, who scripted a film about the pair's relationship, Total Eclipse, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and David Thewlis.
Barnes, who lives little over a mile from the property, said: "So often you find places where you have no sense of a person having been there. But when I went into the house and into one of the two rooms they lodged in, I thought, 'yes, I really can imagine them being there'. You look out of the window and apart from the traffic, you can be carried back to when they were around. There's definitely something still there."
Both Dylan and Smith have acknowledged the inspiration of the poets in their work. In the song "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" from Blood on the Tracks, Dylan sings: "Situations have ended sad, relationships have all been bad; mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud ..."
In Smith's first single, "Piss Factory", she describes the salvation she found in reading a stolen copy of Rimbaud's Illuminations while she worked on an assembly line. She has also given lectures on his poems and was last year honoured by the French Culture Ministry partly for her appreciation of Rimbaud's work.
The campaigners have approached the two rock stars as they try to secure a buyer willing to pay £1.28m for the three properties. The present owner, the Royal Veterinary College, has given them until the end of July before the homes go on to the open market for a higher price.
Verlaine and Rimbaud, a decade his junior, met in Paris after the younger writer charmed him with his letters and poetry and they headed to Brussels. Verlaine deserted his wife and child, who were occasionally victims of his violent drunken rages, to be with his teenage lover. After a spell in Brussels they moved to London and eventually set up home in the attic at the Camden house, lodging with a Mrs Smith and offering French lessons in a colourful area teeming with low life. Another house at which they stayed, in Fitzrovia, was demolished in the 1930s.
Their volatile relationship was often drink-fuelled, and their fiery temperaments would see them drawing knives or razor blades as they rowed. Yet during their stay they also continued to write, with Rimbaud completing many of the poems in Illuminations.
Their partnership ended after Verlaine struck Rimbaud with a fish, after being made fun of. A few days later in Brussels, Rimbaud was shot in the wrist by his ex-lover, who was imprisoned for the crime.
Barnes said: "The French literary connection with London hasn't been commemorated in any meaningful way, but it is worth inserting into the literary landscape of London. Voltaire, Zola and Chateaubriand all spent significant amounts of time in London, and Rimbaud and Verlaine virtually ended their relationship in that house in Camden Town."
"Situations have ended sad/ Relationships have all been bad/ Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud/ But there's no way I can compare/ All them scenes to this affair/ You're gonna make me lonesome when you go"
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