Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The queerest of all the queer sights

From an Open University learning course on The Royal Pavilion in Brighton and its relationship to nineteenth century romanticism and exoticism:
At first glance the Pavilion's exoticism might seem to have a good deal to do with contemporary Romantic writers’ fascination with the Oriental and exotic. A widespread public interest in these modes put Byron's Oriental tales and Thomas Moore's romance Lalla Rookh at the top of the bestseller lists. Coleridge's Kubla Khan, after all, is often regarded as the paradigmatic Romantic short poem.

Some of the ideas and aesthetic effects considered to be Romantic include:

- The abandonment of Enlightenment ideals of knowability and reason, politeness and social responsibility, typically expressed in the neoclassical aesthetic.
- The increasing emphasis put on the unknowable and irrational, and, associated with that, an interest in dreams and fantasies, the development of certain stylistic features (notably the grotesque, the ruined and the fragmentary), and an interest in the sublime.
- An assertion of the primacy of individual imagination and autobiography, and, connected with that, the cult of the strong individual (e.g. Napoleon as well as the Napoleonic-style celebrity of Byron), often associated with Romantic alienation and melancholy.

Some of these tendencies can be identified within the Pavilion. Its decor is quite strongly interested in producing dreamlike illusions. These include jolts in scale and proportion, disorientating self-replicating corridors, unnerving shifts between place, obsessive repetition of motifs, the proliferation of the grotesque and the monstrous, and a general ambition to achieve the sensory overload typical of the sublime. These effects are ultimately designed as the intensely personal theatre of an individual imagination.

Others may have expressed it slightly differently.

The Comtesse de Boigne, 1817: "...indeed a masterpiece of bad taste."

Anthony Pasquin, The New Brighton Guide, 1796: "a nondescript monster in building, and appears like a mad-house, or a house run mad, as it has neither beginning, middle, nor end."

William Hone, The Joss and His Folly, 1820:
"The queerest of all the queer sights I’ve set sight on;
Is, the what d’ye – call’t thing, here, the FOLLY at Brighton.
The outside – huge teapots, all drill’d round with holes,
Relieved by extinguishers, sticking on poles:
The inside – all tea-things, and dragons and bells,
The show rooms – all show, the sleeping rooms – cells.
But the grand Curiosity’s not to be seen–
The owner himself – an old fat mandarin..."
Royal Pavilion Brighton


  1. Now then. I have indeed seen some queer sights in Brighton and love the pavilion with a passion,

    but how could any one call it 'nondescript '


  2. Not the first adjective to come to mind when looking at the Pavilion, I must admit... Jx

  3. Hmm....Would make a marvelous "chateau"!

  4. I do believe one would feel quite comfortable living in a Chateau like that... Jx

  5. I have been there. I have seen it. The Pavilion is quite gay, indeed.


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