Reclusive Celebrities: Background information when reading This Must Be the Place

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This Must Be the Place

A novel

by Maggie O'Farrell

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell X
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 400 pages
    May 2017, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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Reclusive Celebrities

This article relates to This Must Be the Place

Print Review

In Maggie O'Farrell's This Must be The Place, Claudette Wells is a movie star who has quit the world to live on a remote Irish farm. As unusual as this may seem, there are many real-life examples of celebrated individuals who have abandoned the public eye for a more private life.

Greta Garbo In 1932 the Hollywood superstar, Greta Garbo, playing the part of a dancer called Grusinskaya, famously uttered the words: "I want to be alone," in the movie Grand Hotel. It wasn't until nine years later however, at the age of thirty-six, that the actress announced a temporary break from her movie work — a break that marked the start of a 49-year period out of the limelight. Garbo lived alone in Manhattan until her death in 1990. The reason for her decision to be a recluse is still a subject of speculation with some evidence suggesting that she suffered from depression and may have been harboring unrequited love for another Swedish actress, Mimi Pollak.

Howard Hughes Howard Hughes inherited a fortune when he was only 18 years old. Within three years he had greatly expanded the business his father had established developing oil drilling equipment. In 1926 Hughes went to Hollywood producing popular movies including Scarface and The Outlaw, while also enjoying the spotlight in the aviation industry. But Hughes became a recluse in the 1950s. Although rarely ever seen again in public and reputed to have become a Valium addict, possibly with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, Hughes continued to command an immense business empire until his death in 1976. His years as a recluse have been the subject of several rumors and conspiracies theories, two of which resulted in movies: The Hoax (2006) and Melvin and Howard (1980).

Emily Dickinson In the world of literature, writers famous for shunning the limelight include the novelists J. D. Salinger and Harper Lee, but American poet, Emily Dickinson, unknown as a writer in her lifetime, may have been seriously agoraphobic. Emily was born in Massachusetts in 1830 and lived a notably quiet life, even for an unmarried gentlewoman of her day, residing in the same home until her death in 1886. Although she did attend school and college, as an adult Emily's shyness ultimately led to her only very rarely leaving the family home. Her self-imposed isolation continues to fascinate students of her poetry to a large degree because her imaginative life was demonstrably so vivid, even though her physical life was dramatically confined.

Bill Watterson Emily Dickinson's poems were not made public during her lifetime, but one well known cartoonist whose work was widely loved in the 1980s and 1990s, very deliberately turned his back on fame in favor of a much more private life. Bill Watterson has been called the "Howard Hughes of the comic world" having retired his much loved Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in 1995. Calvin, a six-year-old boy whose stuffed tiger Hobbes comes to life in his eyes, continues to capture the imagination of adults and new generations of children but these lovable and often philosophical characters do not appear in any of the merchandising now ubiquitous for similar creations like Peanuts. Watterson has refused to license any products bearing his characters' images. Bill Watterson lives with his wife in Cleveland and declines any requests for an interview.

Picture of Greta Garbo from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Picture of Howard Hughes from
Picture of Emily Dickinson from Amhert College Archives and Special Collections
Picture of Bill Watterson from

Article by Kate Braithwaite

This "beyond the book article" relates to This Must Be the Place. It originally ran in September 2016 and has been updated for the May 2017 paperback edition.

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