I read widely and compulsively and my fancies are ever changing. My love of reading, however, is no mere fancy.
The ethos of the new Cystal Palace was to be the education of the masses, by giving them an 'Illustrated Encyclopedia'. To that end, a historical theme park awaited them, with prehistory in the grounds, and the march of time in ten 'Architectural Courts' . . .
There was an eact replica of the Court of Lions in the Alhambra Court, and an authentic copy of an elaborate Moorish stalactite-honeycomb roof, in 5000 separate pieces of gelatine. this just wasn't enough.. . .this grand design got tangled up with . . . Zoological collections, and freak shows and the Directors concern to make money. The many beautiful illustrations show greenery dripping from every projection and palm trees everywhere. There were bazaars selling everything from shawls to pianos, toys to furniture. . .Attentive visitors in search of enlightenment found themselves confronted by models of grotesque people and collections of stuffed animals, including a hippopotamus. . . One of the iguanadons was 34 feet long, big enough for twenty gentlemen to sit under the mould prepared for it and enjoy a splendid dinner, in 1853.
The palace itself contained 400 tons of glass and 4000 tons of iron. It was twice the size of the Great Exhbition hall with three stories and three vaulted transepts and could bee seen on its perch on sydenham hill from Hammersmith, some 12 miles away, if the night was clear. it sounds amazing, and somehow this is the first I've heard mention of it. It burned to the ground in1936 (there are spectacular photographs of the fire available on line), too late for Mr. Holmes, and has largely been forgotten by history. Let's hope historical fiction and period films can one day bring it back.
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I could never get into [b:Our Mutual Friend, though I wanted to so badly. Bleak House struck my fancy immediately, and remains one of my all time favorites, but OMF, though the book blurb sounded right up my alley, was a slog. I out in down, hoping to pick it up again before I reached my deathbed, but this was more from sheer obstinacy than a true desire to read OMF from cover to cover. Reading Victorian London, however, I kept thinking back to it. More than BH, which takes as its target the whole of Victorian society, OMF, from it's Thames watermen to the wealthy 'dust pile' owner, all described in vivid detail by this fine history, is a novel of London itself. I think Victorian London may have filled in the pieces I need to finish OMF and enjoy it.