Places: Liber Amoris

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1823

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Autobiographical

Time of work: 1823

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Liber AmorisGreat Britain’s capital and greatest city. The London boardinghouse owned by Sarah Walker’s father is the only city site identified in Hazlitt’s tormented account of his romantic obsession. Hazlitt falls in love with Sarah the instant she walks into his room to serve him breakfast. The rest of the world seems to vanish as he concentrates on her graceful movements. Before long, she allows him to fondle her, and they exchange many kisses. This familiarity always takes place in Hazlitt’s room, and he has almost no knowledge of Sarah outside the confines of their morning meetings. They create, in other words, their own little world. Gradually Hazlitt conceives the idea of divorcing his wife and marrying Sarah. Almost at the same time he catches a glimpse of her outside his room with another lodger. Hazlitt suspects that Sarah has also given this other man her attentions. Distraught, he nevertheless maintains plans to divorce his wife, and he departs for Scotland, where he can obtain a divorce quickly and without the legal complications he would encounter in England.

Hazlitt plans to return from Scotland and attempt to renew Sarah’s affections. Indeed he seems drawn by an irresistible force as he describes the River Thames heaving her “name pantingly forth.” However, Sarah has rejected him, and the intense obsession that Hazlitt experienced earlier in the boardinghouse returns as he takes up residence there once more, keenly observing her every move and finally following her outside the boardinghouse, where he witnesses her meeting with the rival male lodger and realizes he was never the exclusive recipient of her attentions.


*Scotland. Hazlitt writes to a friend, explaining that he is forty miles outside of Edinburgh, serving out a term of what he calls “probation,” for he is awaiting the outcome of divorce proceedings. He often walks by the road to London and is obviously thinking about Sarah and the boardinghouse. Indeed, he writes to a friend about his interpretations of Sarah’s behavior and his ultimate hope that he can win her undivided love. However, he acknowledges that he is in a “state of suspense.”

Hazlitt relates every experience in Scotland to the “raging fire” in his heart. Thus a steamboat trip turns into a hellish vision of the “prison-house” of his feelings, which are relieved only by his image of Sarah’s smile, which is heavenly. Away from her he plunges into a “dungeon of despair.” He walks by the sea, and the “eternal ocean” evokes his expression of “lasting despair” in his memory of Sarah’s face. He hopes that a visit to the Scottish countryside will relieve his intense emotions and that he will be able to work on his writing. Edinburgh seems “stony-hearted” and the air “too thin,” the place too far from his “heart’s true home.”

Even exquisite sites such as Roslyn Castle lead back to Sarah and Hazlitt’s suspicion that she is now in the lap of the rival lodger. Indeed every landmark and place, however briefly mentioned, becomes another location to dwell on Sarah’s infidelity. She haunts Hazlitt’s journey, and he takes to calling her a witch. It is a romantic setting, but he fears his passion has made him into a fool.

Scotland lingers in Hazlitt’s memory after his return to lodge at the boardinghouse. In Scotland, the “flint had been my pillow,” he remarks, but now his proximity to Sarah only emphasizes their estrangement. After a long interview with her, Hazlitt reluctantly realizes that she will not have him. The only place left for her is the very book he writes in order to express and to rid himself of his obsession.

BibliographyBeaty, Frederick L. Light from Heaven: Love in British Romantic Literature. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1971. Describes Liber Amoris as the author’s attempt to punish and purge himself. He develops the romantic notion of love as a hallucination.Butler, Marilyn. “Satire and the Images of Self in the Romantic Period: The Long Tradition of Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris.” In English Satire and the Satiric Tradition, edited by Claude Rawson and Jenny Mezciems. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1984. Also in Spirits of Fire: English Romantic Writers and Contemporary Historical Methods, edited by G. A. Rosso and Daniel P. Watkins. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. Discusses the fact that Liber Amoris, the agonized record of a man in the grip of a sexual obsession, has been regarded as an artless Romantic autobiography, but argues that its satirical elements reveal themselves if it is read alongside Thomas De Quincey’s The Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821).Friedman, Martin B. “Hazlitt, Jerrold, and Horne: Liber Amoris Twenty Years After.” Review of English Studies 22, no. 88 (November, 1971): 455-462. An account of Douglas William Jerrold’s short story, which parodied Liber Amoris and the scandalous publicity the book elicited. Friedman discusses Richard Henry Horne’s accusation that Jerrold was impolite.Priestley, J. B. William Hazlitt. London: Longmans, 1960. Interprets Liber Amoris from a Jungian perspective, noting how the book exemplifies Hazlitt’s characteristically personal obsession in his writing.Wardle, Ralph M. Hazlitt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971. Uses Hazlitt’s letters to his friend Patmore during the Liber Amoris affair to show his development as a writer.
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