Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Banquet at Crystal Palace, 1860

On a market stall in East Dulwich I recently came across a clipping from the Illustrated London News. It is undated, but various stories on it suggest that it was from Summer 1860. It includes an illustration and account of a banquet at Crystal Palace with guests including Gladstone (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) and 'many members of Parliament and eminent scientific literary men':

'On Saturday week Sir Joseph and Lady Paxton gave a charming fete at their beautiful residence, Rockhills, adjoining the Crystal Palace... After enjoying a promenade in the grounds attached to Sir Joseph's villa, the company, at seven o'clock, proceeded to the north wing of the Crystal Palace, where an elegant dinner was served, covers being laid for 350 persons. After the banquet a ball was improvised, and at ten o'clock the whole upper range of fountains in the Crystal Palace gardens were set in motion, and illumined with various coloured lights, the effect of which upon the falling water was singularly beautiful'.

Quite a party evidently.

During this period too, the Crystal Palace became a key theme in Russian literature, as Sarah J Young (a CP based lecturer in Russian) discusses at her blog. Essentially the argument was between the writers Chernyshevsky and Dostoevsky. The former, active in revolutionary politics, used the Palace on Sydenham Hill as an image of utopia in his novel What is to be Done? The latter, who wrote about a visit to the Palace in 1863, saw the Crystal Palace and indeed the whole utopian impulse as a doomed attempt at a rationalisation of human life that could never banish the human taste for doubt, suffering and chaos.

Sarah has also started exploring wider depictions of the Crystal Palace area in literature. Some of them I had heard of, but I had no idea that 'Lawrence Durrell’s The Black Book (1938) is set at the Queen’s Hotel (in the novel called the Regina) on Church Road, Crystal Palace'. More to come apparently.

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