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Hard Core Onelers: Hired Hermits March 11, 2011

Posted by Onely in book review, Food for Thought, Great Onelies in History, Reviews.
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Welcome to the latest installment in our series Hard Core Onelers, where we feature people who take independence to new or interesting extremes. Today’s subject: Hired Hermits.

Copious Readers, what would it take for you to become a hermit?

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Doubleday, 2010. (Onely recommends: Read this book. It’s amazing.)

For a time [at estates in Victorian England] it was highly fashionable to build a hermitage and install in it a live-in hermit. At Painshill in Surrey, one man signed a contract to live seven years in picturesque seclusion, observing a monastic silence, for 100 pounds a year, but was fired after just three weeks when he was spotted drinking in the local pub.

An estate owner in Lancashire promised 50 pounds a year for life to anyone who would pass seven years in an underground dwelling without cutting his hair or toenails or talking to another person. Someone took up the offer and actually lasted four years before deciding he could take no more; whether he was at least given a partial pension for his efforts is sadly unknown.

Queen Caroline had the architect William Kent build for her a hermitage at Richmond into which she installed a poet named Stephen Duck, but that was not quite a success either, for Duck decided he didn’t like the silence or being looked at by strangers, so he quit.

Copious Readers, would you be a hired hermit? For how long? Under what sort of parameters? Before I’d make my decision, I’d need the answers to a few simple questions:

Do people have to journey through the woods and up a mountain to see me? Am I confined to the cave/cottage or can I frolic in the nearby fields too? Does the public come to watch me do my hermitting? Do I get food delivered or must I rely on my gardening and snare-making skills? Am I allowed to trim my nails and nose hairs?

I thought long and hard and decided I could last at least five years under some combination of these conditions. Time to nap! Time to write! Time to do backbends and tree pose! I would only need just a few meager possessions:




–warm babbling brook running through the cave floor

–some bags of cashews


–memory foam mattress

–ceiling fan

–heated floors

–my MacBook


–my cats

–$20,000 year stipend (good cat food is expensive)

–make that $60,000 (good cat food is really expensive)

–access to medical care (assuming the doctor makes cave calls)

–visits from my family and friends (depending on the conditions set by the estate owner, these might have to be clandestine, involving parachutes and balaclavas)

Rich estate-owning readers, want to add a touch of whimsy and mystique to your premises? By following the few simple guidelines above,  you can have your very own Onely hermit, with crisply groomed nose hairs.


Photo credit: aug.edu


1. josie - March 13, 2011

Really, Christine? Five years? I don’t think I could do it at all as much as I enjoy my own company. Even with friends visiting, I’d need to be able to get out once a week.
OK, that’d be my condition- a day off a week. Also heating, actually heated floors would be lovely to practice yoga, and all the conditions you specify Christine, except my dog with me, not your cats!

2. josie - March 13, 2011

Oops, sorry. I really should have taken more care, Christina. . ..my bad!

3. Singlutionary - March 14, 2011

I think that in this day and age, with the internet and all, it is easier to be a hermit. Some of my favorite hermits are a guy who homesteads out in West Texas near Marfa and performs poetry via his blog and whoever it is who gets this writer’s residency on this remote property (2 hours from civilization on a dirt road) in Oregon or Washington someplace. There would be time to write because there would be nothing else to do! Wonderful. Except that right now, after years of as much seclusion as one can get in the middle of mainstream city life, I am trending in the other direction: out of my own solitude.

Onely - March 16, 2011

Hmmm. . . I want to do that residency. I wonder if I would go crazy. . . I have never been that isolated before! How interesting! Obviously though, he has internet, which I guess changes the whole dynamic. I could spend a whole week doing nothing but watching streaming Netflix just as easily out there as here in NoVA. . .

4. adlin - March 14, 2011

While I do very well with my own company, I’d have to have contact of some type with the outside world (not sure that meets the definition of hermit) and would definitely need a day once a week, once a month, something to just get out. Otherwise, after a bit, I’d go a little stir crazy. Oh, and I’d want my cat as well.

5. Carrie - March 15, 2011

I love to hermitize for a couple of weeks every now and then, but I would end up in a straight jacket after five years.

6. cynner - April 18, 2011

I think the better question is what was the motivation of the hiring estate owner? Why would you want to pay someone to be a hermit, especially the demand to stay underground?

Onely - April 28, 2011

I’m not sure that they’re actually designated as underground dwellers per se. At least in my hypothetical hermitage scenario that would be kind of a dealbreaker. I know that the book said one guy tried to be a hired hermit but quit “because he was tired of people looking at him”, which would seem to imply that he’s aboveground (or that his cave had a glass wall?) = )

7. Anthony - January 26, 2015

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