St Thomas’s Hospital at the Zoo

The cholera ward, of course, was in the giraffe house…

In my recent researches of St. Thomas’s Hospital, Southwark, I have discovered an unusual episode, a time when the hospital went to the zoo.

St. Thomas’s Hospital was located on Borough Street in Southwark from the medieval period until 1862. (What remains of it, the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, is my all-time favourite museum in London.) At that time, the railway was forcing itself through the area as companies competed with each other. The proposed railway went right through the heart of the hospital grounds. So in 1862 the hospital was sold to the railway company, for £296,000, according to this.

Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals shown on “Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace”

‘St Thomas’s Hospital 1860’, aerial view. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images, Roberts, G.Q., A brief history of St Thomas’s Hospital (1920)

A new hospital site was arranged to be built where most of it still stands, in Lambeth, across from the Houses of Parliament. But this site wasn’t complete until 1871.

View of St Thomas’s Hospital with plan taken from Henry Currey’s, St. Thomas’s Hospital, London. [London] : [Royal Institute of British Architects], 1871 [St Thomas’s Historical Books Collection PAMPH. BOX RA988.L8 T1 CUR]

Most sources skip over this gap. Where did the hospital go in the meantime, for nine years?

It went to Surrey Gardens, in Newington, Walworth, in September 1862. Surrey Gardens had been a pleasure garden, like Vauxhall. It had a zoo. But as business declined, the animals were sold off to build a huge music hall. The hall was gutted by fire in 1861, which coincidentally led to a court case that determined you cannot hold someone to a contract when it’s impossible to fulfill it (in this case, a concert reserved for a burnt-out hall).

St. Thomas’s Hospital decided to lease the whole property, repaired the building, and repurposed some of the zoo.

I’ve been looking for histories and records of St. Thomas’ Hospital to learn more about the situation at Surrey Gardens. The St Thomas’s Hospital Report of 1867 is available, for some reason, at Google Books. Amputation fatalities, I discovered, were lower at the new location.

[Aside: there were also some figures in the Report tables that seem odd to me. How could the average stay in hospital for an ankle sprain be 11 days (p602)? This made me wonder whether one had to stay in hospital to be allowed off work, or whether people really had no one at home to take care of them (or no home — quite possible in a poor neighborhood), or whether ankle sprains were for some reason more serious then? Four men and four women had sprained their ankle that year, and the average stay was 11 days? Perhaps they had more wrong with them than a sprained ankle.]

The giraffe house really was the cholera ward, and the old elephant house was used for dissections. That piece of information comes from a book about Florence Nightingale, who was a big part of all this. She had opened her first nursing school at Old St. Thomas’ only two years before the move, and helped provide for room and board for nurses at the hospital. She also helped design the new Lambeth hospital for maximum light, ventilation, and separation of patients into pavilions. [And she promoted hand-washing as the best anti-infective, as true now as it was in 1860.]

The Illustrated London News of December 1862 (copy available at HathiTrust) features a quick column on how the facilities at Surrey Gardens boasted the “rapid and complete conversion of the old buildings to their new and beneficent uses”, and imagined the gardens would provide a unique opportunity for medical students to stroll and contemplate. Nightingale, who believed in patient access to the outdoors, would have approved this. She wrote a letter to Henry Bonham Carter (her cousin and the Secretary of the Nightingale Fund) on the advantages of temporary buildings for hospitals, but it isn’t available online.

The 9-year relocation gets only a single-sentence mention in Wikipedia. That’s a shame. It seems like such an interesting interlude.

Orders for The British Library

If all goes well, I’ll be returning to England in a few weeks (yay!), to try to finish the research for what I’m calling “Book 1”.

I need quite a few things from the British Library, which as a Reader with a card, I can order online in advance. About half of what I need has a 48-hour delivery time. When you click on the link to order, the system tells you that you are limited to 10 “items” per day, and that consecutive “issues” count as one item.

So I tried to start with the journal The University Correspondent. I need several articles in several different volumes (years) 1891-1893. But what constitutes an “issue”? The online catalog doesn’t say how many issues are in a volume, but I’m pretty sure it’s too many to make all three years one “item”. So I wrote to the helpful people at the Library, who emailed back next day to tell me that since this journal’s volumes are half a year, the “issues” would be six for January-June, and six more for July-December, in each volume. So that’s six “items”, even though I only need a few short articles from specific issues.

I’ve ended up ordering 20 items from the British Library, so they must be parceled over two days.

I know the drill. First through security with all the tourists coming to see the exhibitions, then downstairs to the lockers. Put my Readers Card, passport, papers, notebook, mobile phone, pencil, laptop, cord, and wallet in the clear plastic bag. Everything else in the purse. Find a locker where I can actually turn the lock (about half the lockers have their lock stuck closed although the door hangs open). Put my purse and water bottle in, then close and latch the door. Remember to put my code in twice, not once (last time I had to get a guard to open my locker at the end of the day). Upstairs to Humanities 1 Reading Room. Show plastic bag and Readers Card to guards. Find a table first, put something there to hold it (this is the tough part – what to leave on the table?), note the number of the table in the notebook, then go to the desk, show my card, say my name, tell them my table number, and chew off my nails as I wait to see whether what I ordered is actually there (that runs about 80% after three previous visits).

This trip, though, I have a backup plan. I will stay in London first, and go to the Library my first two days there (jet-lag city). Then later in the trip I’ll stay at Wetherby, near the Boston Spa location of the British Library. And I’ll have a few days in between, so I can request things that have a 48 hour tag. That gives me two chances to get everything I need.

Working in the reading rooms is both good and bad. Good is that there is plenty of space to work, a free scanning machine to scan pages and email yourself the scans, and helpful people at the desks. Bad is that you can’t take in water or food, so it’s easy to get hungry and thirsty. The chairs are just chairs, not comfortable. It’s so much trouble to exit the building and return (replay the paragraph above with the bag and lockers) that the tendency is to do whatever you can to stay till you’re done. This includes eating at the Library, where the nicest place to eat is quite expensive, and the least expensive place has nowhere to sit. On many days I’ve been there, every available desk or chair that isn’t in a reading room is occupied.

This time I’ll also need some items on microfilm, from the Pall Mall Gazette. I shouldn’t need them. The library has digitized these, and one can access them free on machines in the Newsroom, which I have done, but several words in the articles could not be seen clearly on the screen or the resulting printout. Plus, printing is a difficult process that involves going to the Newsroom desk, showing your card, getting into the computer system to access the card settings, getting help because it never works the first time, taking out a credit card to add money to the reader card, then going back to the printer to insert the card and print one page at a time after carefully lining things up on the difficult-to-use reading machine. I even paid £12.95 in March for a month’s access to British Newspaper Archive, so I could see if they had a better copy – it was a bit better but I’m still missing words (I’m transcribing, so missed words are important).

It’s the sort of thing one doesn’t so much look forward to doing, as to being done. But heck, I don’t care, because I’ll be in England, my favorite place. And when I’m done starving and getting dehydrated and stiff in the reading room, I’ll have days of train rides and unpredictable weather that everyone talks about. I’ll have a few days of international accents all around me, followed by more days of English accents all around me. I’ll be there for the European Parliament elections, because the UK can’t do anything politically important without me there. I’ll go to Evensong and art galleries and see my friend Jenny. And when I return to teach my summer classes, I’ll finish the book somehow and do the proposal, and move on to more work with Mr. Wells.

Houses without plaques

There are many plaques around boasting a building’s association with H. G. Wells. The seventeen noted here include ones I’ve seen personally (Midhurst, Chiltern Court in London), and the site even includes the very strange sign on the pub in Petersfield, where I can’t determine when Wells would have “regularly dined and wrote here”. Some of the plaques, though, aren’t on the Wells page, so it’s more than seventeen.

For example, Woking. I did try to get to the house in Woking when I was between trains, but I was unable to lug my suitcase up the road a sufficient distance to get to 141 Maybury Road, where Wells and Amy moved in May 1895 (this site says they married there, but the Mackenzie biography says they married at the Mornington Road house discussed below). I have also not seen the plaque at the house everyone associates with Wells, because he died there: 13 Hanover Terrace.

I am, however, investigating his younger years. I know that a number of places with which he was associated have been destroyed, or are repurposed (such as Henley House School in Kilburn, which is now a housing development — it has a plaque for A.A. Milne, but not Wells). But today I was writing introductions for a book, and I began updating my biographical material.

That’s how I discovered how many existing buildings in London associated with Wells’ early life appear to be still standing, but don’t have plaques. It doesn’t really make sense, particularly when there are (obviously unofficial) plaques at places like William Burton’s house in Stoke-on-Trent, Basford, where Wells spent a mere three months recuperating from illness in 1888.

1859 ad for Morley’s Academy

Things start of well, biographically. The dame school he attended as a child, at 8 South Street in Bromley, has a plaque. The house where he lived with his family (Atlas House, 47 High Street), unfortunately, has been destroyed, and the site is now a commercial property in the high street. Along the same street was Morley’s Academy, where Wells learned book-keeping and other subjects. The numbering on the street has changed, but this site also appears to also be gone.  Things improve in Midhurst, where Wells was a chemist’s apprentice and attended grammar school. Midhurst has a number of plaques: on the place where he lived above a sweet shop (now the Olive and Vine — I recommend the King Prawns), the chemist’s shop (now a dentist), and the grammar school (now the South Downs Center). The house Uppark, where Wells’ mother worked and where he returned frequently, doesn’t need a plaque, since the house is preserved, rebuilt after fire, and can be visited (get there in the morning in case the cellars where Sarah Wells worked close early because of a lack of volunteers — better yet, volunteer!) There is a plaque in Windsor, at the drapers where he was an apprentice.

But London, where blue plaques pop up like pimples, there’s an issue. In 1885, Wells resided at 181 Euston Road, walking across the part every day to attend classes at the Normal School of Science (now Imperial College). That house doesn’t exist, because the railroad was extended — the side of the street it would be on is now a drop onto the tracks. Fitzroy Road in Primrose Hill, however, does exist, and Wells lived at two different houses there. His aunt and cousin Isabel (later his wife) lived at 12 Fitzroy Road, and he moved in with them in 1888 (right after those three months in Batsford). In May of 1889 they all moved to a bigger house at 46 Fitzroy Road. Now I know, because of Bromley, that street numbers can change. But if they haven’t, and I’m using Google Maps correctly, those houses are there:

 

12 Fitzroy Road

46 Fitzroy Road

Lovely houses, but no plaques. And it’s not really near Wells’ job at Henley House School, so I’ll have to investigate streetcars, but that’s a task for another time…

In October of 1891 Wells and Isabel married, and they moved to 28 Haldon Road in Wandsworth. It seems to be still there:

28 Haldon Road, Wandsworth

Hmmm…no plaque. Wells wss 25 years old by then, and lived here several years. His mother Sarah visited him here, he had a bout of illness in May 1893 and was confined to bed here, writing like a maniac, but no plaque. He’d be commuting from here to Red Lion Square, where he taught biology. Streetcar? Later, later…

Wells also fell in love with another woman at the biology labs, Amy Catherine. He left his wife and moved in with Amy, to 7 Mornington Place, in Camden Town. Uncomfortable with the landlady (who was uncomfortable with them), two months later they moved to 12 Mornington Road. Mornington Road is now Mornington Terrace, so again, if the numbering is OK and Google streetview is correct, both these houses are also there:

7 Mornington Place, Camden

12 Mornington Terrace

No plaque (that one on the right is an alarm thing).

So let’s review. Up-and-coming famous person, writing a biology text-book and something that will later be called The Time Machine, and no plaque? After this, we’re on to Maybury Road in Woking, Sandhurst, other places that do have plaques.

It does make me wonder.

 

Update: Having received a question about this from my colleague Rob Bond, I looked up the rules (first at Wikipedia, then properly at at English Heritage Trust). For London, a person may only have one blue plaque. The one for Wells at Hanover Terrace is blue. The one at Chiltern Court is brown. So the others I’m proposing should likely be from one of the other schemes, which English Heritage mentions on their page, at the bottom.

 

The Grant Museum of Zoology

Sure, you can go to the Science Museum in South Kensington. It’s huge, and has lots of cool stuff.

But small museums have such an inviting feel to them. Often they seem personal, because they sometimes are the dream of one person or a small group of people. And in England, there are so many of them.

I have a certain attraction also to the University of London, even though I’ve only attended one presentation there. It’s at the heart of my research, because it was the opening of the University exams to all comers that made it possible for lower middle-class people like HG Wells to get their degree. It was their exams that led to the demand for institutions like the University Correspondence College. And it’s in Bloomsbury, with its own wonderful Virginia Woolf history. Plus it’s got Red Lion Square, where Wells taught at the University Tutorial College labs.

But it doesn’t feel like a cohesive area, perhaps because, like a number of English universities, its buildings are scattered about. Among them is the Grant Museum of Zoology, a small Victorian museum that belongs to the University.

 

It’s only open from 1-5 in the afternoon, so one day in October I found myself hanging around on the sidewalk with a handful of other people, all of us wondering whether we could go in. Turns out there was an inner door, so we waited until someone who knew it was open went in, then we trailed behind.

For those of us who work with students, it’s enchanting, because the student influence is everywhere. I admit I was looking for a particular gorilla skeleton, but that’s not my fault.

A book on the university showed it in the 1880s. Wells got friendly with it about that time too.

 

 

So of course I had to find it. And I did. The poor thing is squashed into a case with a bunch of other stuff.

Yes, I was there to see a gorilla skeleton once touched by H.G. Wells. But there was so much more. Squishy things in jars. I love that stuff.

I didn’t even know that sea mice were a thing. And all this for students to use to study zoology, as Wells had done. They had rows and rows of little tubes with little animal bones.

And, most fascinating to me, an actual item used by T.H. Huxley in his classroom!

Now, I’m not a biologist (nor do I play one on TV), but history of science, technology, the Victorian era – that’s my thing. It’s enough to made you

Unlike large museums, where every individual item can take on extreme importance with a big sign for each thing, small museums pack a lot of stuff into each square inch. The collection is obvious, and it’s the collection that counts.

This place has things you’ll never see in your life. A jar full of moles. Human skeletons ordered by type. Drawers of things you can’t identify (but students have to). Monstrous centipedes in liquid. Giant squid.

Looking for where Wells got his raw (and I do mean raw) material? It’s all here.

So you bet I coughed up some cash to Make Taxidermy Great Again.

 

Calling the Tune: British Universities and the State, 1880-1914

Keith Vernon, senior lecturer in Modern Social History at University of Central Lancashire, keeps popping up in my readings, because he focuses on the history of higher and technical education in the 19th and 20th centuries. This one is from 2001.

All history articles have what I call an “although” thesis, stated or implied. It’s usually something along the lines of, “although historians have seen it this way, they’re wrong and here’s why”. This article was no exception. Apparently the scholarly analyses of educational change published in the late 1980s and 1990s were in error in concentrating on the role of the state in the development of British universities only after 1919, when the University Grants Committee came into being. Such direct influence from the government on the universities came earlier. Of course, since I’ve been studying the grants given by the Science and Art Department, later the Board of Education, during the 1880s, it was easy to agree with Vernon’s thesis. I learned the government was always willing to fund universities in the interest of helping them become cultural centers, and that the funding in the late 19th century was thus limited to sciences and arts and restricted from vocational subjects (including medicine). I learned that Oxford and Cambridge had quite a bit of their own funding, but that other entities throughout Britain who wanted to become universities had to prove their university-level arts and sciences to the government to get money. Thus a pattern of “investigation, regulation and funding” (p253) emerged that ensured that new universities towed the line, even while the government insisted that local funding remained primary, especially as provincial institutions were inherently local in their perspective and usefulness.

Even Oxford and Cambridge, however, expanded access during the latter part of the 19th century. Doing so, interestingly, undermined for some the reason for the University of London, which had been to first to allow Dissenters, women, and poorer people to obtain degrees. Despite the separation between academic and vocational studies that Vernon insists was enforced by the government, however, teaching seems to have been the exception. He notes that the university colleges primarily engaged in teacher training, and that following the investigations of 1895, the Treasury remained skeptical and wanted to “ensure that a reasonable number of arts and science students were studying for purely academic reasons, not on vocational courses” (p261). Perhaps this is why so many teachers at that time, including H.G. Wells, wanted to earn a degree, and it may suggest reasons why having one was necessary to getting a good position as a schoolmaster.

The other interesting section of the article concerned the battle over Gresham University, or what I’ve seen elsewhere called The Gresham Scheme. In 1892, the issues brought forth by University College and King’s College, both integral parts of the University of London (though they didn’t want to be) could not be resolved. The two colleges allied with 10 medical schools to recommend a teaching university with the name Gresham University. The Cowper Commission instead, in 1894, recommended keeping one University of London but dividing the internal (teaching) and external (examining) functions. Just as it got interesting, the article jumped into the 20th century. But when it did so, it claimed that admiration for Germany caused the new reforms that created the Imperial College, constructed out of the old Normal School of Science (attended by HG) and other South Kensington entities. Imperial College “was explicitly designed as a technological powerhouse for the empire” (p264). So long as we’re arguing for earlier origins of things, I would argue that the German influence came much earlier, when the payment-by-results and other schemes were introduced in order to encourage science teaching.

 

 

Vernon, Keith. 2001. “Calling the Tune: British Universities and the State, 1880-1914.” Hist. Educ. 30 (3): 251–71. https://doi.org/10.1080/00467600010029294.

A great schoolmaster

I have recently read, pretty much in one sitting, The Story of a Great Schoolmaster, by (you guessed) H.G. Wells.

(For those of you thinking I’m sitting a lot on my sabbatical, well, that’s by design. And sometimes I lie down instead, because I know sitting a lot is bad for you.)

Published in 1924, it is the story of F.W. Sanderson, and his role as headmaster at Oundle School, Northamptonshire, which he reformed in the 1890s:

The world is changing so rapidly that it may be well to say a few words about the type of school Sanderson was destined to renovate. Even in the seventies and eighties these smaller ‘classical’ schools had a quaint old-fashioned air amidst the surrounding landscape. They were staffed by the less vigorous men of the university-scholar type; men of the poorer educated classes in origin, not able enough to secure any of the prizes reserved for university successes, and not courageous enough to strike out into the great world on their own account. (p28)

(I know it’s presumptuous of me to mention it, but Wells seems to be sporting a superior attitude here, having himself won some scholarships and prizes in the 1880s, and being courageous enough to strike out on his own as soon as he could during his early years. By 1924, however, he was a successful author of fiction rather than a successful headmaster, so I find his approach here a bit condescending.)

Wells met Sanderson in 1914, when he was looking at Oundle School as a possibility for his own sons George Phillip (“Gip”) and Francis (known as Frank, I assume after H.G.’s brother). According to Wikipedia, Gip did attend Oundle, so I assume Frank did also. Certainly it’s evident that once their father saw what Sanderson had done with the school, he was filled with admiration for his modern views and methods. It was these methods I found most interesting (and also Sanderson’s death, which I’ll get to in a minute).

Sanderson developed what we would today call “active learning”, and group active learning at that. Most of it is described in Chapter III: The Replacement of Competition by Group Work. Having noted that Sanderson believed that boys should be doing active scientific work, and that they were more involved and interested when they did, Wells then shared a mini history of education. He claimed that “there have been three chief phases in the history of educational method in the past five centuries, the phase of compulsion, the phase of competition, and the phase of natural interest” (p46). These aren’t necessarily discrete, but he sees medieval teaching as motivated largely by compulsion, and balancing rote learning with corporal punishment. The second phase was the age of the class-list (that is, the lists of students passing exams — or not). He referred to this era as “slightly more enlightened” (p46):

The school of the rod gave place to the school of the class-list. An aristocracy of leading boys made the pace and the rest of the school found its compensation in games or misbehaviour. (pp46-47)

He noted that during this time the curriculum was Greek, Latin, and formal mathematics, none of which were of any intrinsic interest to a boy. By the end of the 18th century, there was a shift, and attention to subjects that were more interesting. He briefly mentions Pestalozzi and Froebel as pioneers of the third phase. Wells had written an essay on Froebel, which I have been unable to find, to earn the Doreck Prize, so he did know about these things. He had himself been a product of the class-list phase. Both the thrills and sorrows of competition, as he saw it at the Normal School of Science, appear in several of his novels.

Sanderson began his career at Oundle using the old class-list methods, but in mathematics he started to create instead “clusters of boys surrounding an attractive problem” (p48). A “Science Conversazione” developed of small groups of pupils working on a particular problem, at first in their free time. A surprisingly large number of students joined voluntarily, in focus groups of various scientific subjects. Experiments were assigned or developed, and as the “Speech Day” approached, class time was replaced by work time on the projects. The school would look chaotic at such times, but all the pupils were completely engaged in developing solutions to the problems emerging in their work:

Concurrently with this steady replacement of the instructional-exercise system by the group-activity system, the mathematical work became less and less a series of exercises in style and more and more an attack upon problems needing solution in the workshops and laboratories, with the solution as the real incentive to the work. (p52)

What do we call this now? Applied learning, constructivism, cooperative learning, maker spaces, design thinking, flipped classroom, growth mindset, scaffolding — it’s all there in 1898.

Sanderson’s success in science led to his application of the technique to literature and history, doing away with

…the lesson that was a third-rate lecture, the note-taking, the rehearsal of silly opinions about books unread and authors unknown, the horrible annotated editions, the still more horrible text-books of literature

and replacing them with plays, with the boys taking the parts, to teach literature, to bring the pupils “into the most active contact possible with the reality of the work they studied” (p54). For history the school library was the laboratory, with content divided among the groups, who prepared maps and quotations for presentation and argued with each other about historical approaches (pp54-55). (This all sounded so exciting that I began to mourn our old college library, with its many shelves of books that could be physically browsed. Now the books are in a small section, with most of the room taken over by computers. More information? Yes, indeed. A space for enthusiastic searching for information in noisy groups? No.)

Today Oundle School still exists (with boys and girls), and Sanderson is mentioned here as its most famous headmaster. It is now primarily a boarding school, although it has day students, with ages starting as young as 11 years old, although the usual is 13. I’m sure it’s a wonderful school, but I must admit to queasiness at the very idea of having a child that age live at a school. But that is neither here nor there.

I am these days wrestling with the idea of biography as history, and it helps that Wells didn’t mean to just write a biography — his work makes a point about Sanderson:

To tell his story is to reflect upon all the main educational ideas of the last half-century, and to revise our conception of the process and purpose of the modern community in relation to education. (p2)

Sounds like a good idea now as well as then.

I noted in the book a natural sympathy, as there often is between a biographer and his subject. Apparently, like Wells, Sanderson went round on a bicycle, but wasn’t great at outdoor games (Wells was asked to participate on cricket teams, but wouldn’t play even when he agreed to sign up). As a young man, like Wells, Sanderson was slender and serious. And he always went his own way.

Sanderson died in 1922 after completing a lecture where he was introduced by Wells. He suffered a heart attack during the Q&A which followed the talk, and Wells had to go tell his widow. Wells tells the story, and reprints the lecture in its entirety, for the last chapter.

A review of the book from the Journal of Education* claimed that Sanderson being the first subject to stir Wells into writing a biography would make “The Story of a Great Schoolmaster the most famous educational book of the decade, probably of a quarter of a century”. More effusiveness followed: “We have seen no book on education from Solomon, Socrates and Comenius to Edward Eggleston and William Hawley Smith whose every paragraph has a human touch that throbs.” I think that is perhaps overdoing it, but it’s a very good book, especially for those looking to support efforts toward enlivening curriculum.

 

*The Journal of Education, Vol. 99, No. 18 (2478) (May 1, 1924), p. 499, retrieved via JSTOR 15 Nov 2018.

(Clever readers will notice that I’ve counted this small review as Student Learning Outcome 5: cultural expression as evidence of a historical theme. This is because the book is a literary work, even though it is non-fiction, and such a book is a cultural expression of its time: 1924. It could be used to represent the interest in education, and/or the popularity of Wells’ writings, during that era. It isn’t as popular now, I think, since I purchased at good price what I just realized is a first edition.)

 

 

About Carlyle

In the mid-1880s, during his time at South Kensington, when he was supposed to be studying for his science examinations, H.G. Wells was instead educating himself. In his autobiography, he noted Thomas Carlyle as part of his self-required reading:

I was reading not only a voluminous literature of propaganda but discursively in history, sociology and economics. I was doing my best to find out what such exalted names as Goethe and Carlyle, Shelley and Tennyson, Shakespeare, Dryden, Milton, Pope—or again Buddha, Mahomet and Confucius—had had to say about the world and what they mattered to me. I was learning the use of English prose and sharpening my mind against anyone’s with whom I could start a discussion.

Wells considered it a treat to read Carlyle’s book on the French Revolution, a break from his other reading. He also noted that England as a whole was influenced by Carlyle in a nationalism that was “consciously Teutonic”. Later on in the 1890s, Wells claimed, every writer was considered to be a “second” someone, and that at one time Wells himself was called a second Carlyle.

Although Wells was about twenty then and I am, shall we say, at least twice as old, I am also educating myself, in Victorian culture and literature as well as education. I cannot read all the things Wells read, but I did want to take a look at Carlyle, since I had only read Signs of the Times (then, in a move I have regretted more than once,  I assigned it to students). I bought a copy of Past and Present a couple of years ago, and tried to read it. I say “tried” because I never made it through – the prose seemed awful, like a combination of Wordsworth on drugs and Kipling on a very bad day (one more exclamation point and I would have crawled under the sofa).

So shopping at Skoob on my last trip to the UK, I picked up a short biography on Ruskin (for obvious reasons – readers know how much I both dislike him and am trying to understand his influence). Next to it, in the same paperbound series (Past Masters, by Oxford University Press), was one on Carlyle, by A.L. LeQuesne. I read the whole thing in one day (I won’t say “in one sitting” because I had to get up for tea and chocolate…ok, more than once).

It was brilliantly written. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect that. Biography can be quite dull, and Carlyle himself was hardly exciting. LeQuesne’s thesis (I didn’t expect a clear thesis either) was that Carlyle’s best work took place in only a few years of his very long career: 1837-1848. Before this, Carlyle wrote poorly (I am apparently not the only one to notice this), and afterward he was behind in worldview and no longer speaking to the current generation.

I do not like biographies that explain in detail the personal lives and clinical ailments of their subjects. Some things seem relevant to me (like Holmes’ noting in his biography of Wellington that the Duke put bars on the windows of Apsley House because he feared the rabble) and others do not (like the many biographies detailing Wells’ sexual proclivities, either known or imagined). LeQuesne had just the right amount of personal detail. It was important to know how witty and endearing Carlyle’s wife was, and how charming their marriage (at least to outsiders), to help explain why their house on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea was appealing to many intellectuals as a place to meet and converse.  His dyspepsia and sensitivity to noise was mentioned a few times, mostly as a distraction to his writing that needed to be overcome, but not, thank goodness, in detail. Similarly, his religion was discussed only as it influenced his work.

Robert Tait, A Chelsea Interior (The Carlyles at Home with their Dog Nero at 5/24 Great Cheyne Row, London), 1857-58

 

Carlyle had roots in an agricultural family in Scotland, and lost some of his youthful religious beliefs when he left. As a young man, he wrote many reviews of books, and since Wells did some of this too it helped me understand the culture that had writers enter the market by writing such reviews. Rebelling against the Enlightenment emphasis, philosophically and intellectually, at university in Edinburgh, Carlyle began studying German romanticism. His Sartor Resartus is described as “a weird Romantic masterpiece which defies either classification or summary” (p19). His style was sometimes “rambling, turbulent, ejaculatory, vastly self-indulgent and metaphorical” (p21). In this work, he apparently developed a theme of the material expression of life requiring a spiritual or super-natural foundation. Earnest work, he thought, made possible the glimpsing of the spiritual beneath the material (Ruskin would have understood this, I think). The book apparently fit the Romantic idea, common among people like Wordsworth (duh) of the superiority of the imagination over the dullness of cold rationality.

Reading this sort of thing now, when rationality is so sorely missing in our culture, and imagination has gone awry into nightmares of duplicity and cruelty, is difficult. But as he continued, Carlyle turned himself into a historian, using that imagination to enliven deep primary research into the past, particularly the French Revolution and the English Civil War. LeQuesne claims he replaced a faith in religion with a faith in history (p33). This was not a faith in materialism, like that of Karl Marx, but of providential judgement. The horrors of the French Revolution seemed to be divine punishment of some sort, revealing God’s purpose. Carlyle thus opposed previous historians of the 1830s, who looked back on the revolution as a horrible deviation from the natural order and a warning about a possible uprising. Carlyle’s analysis instead provided a “cause of hope rather than fear; for it was a sentence of divine justice on a corrupt society” (p35, a page dog-eared by a previous reader of my copy).

Of even more interest to me was the analysis of Carlyle as a historian in professional terms. According to LeQuesne:

Carlyle did not believe that the historian’s function was to provide a smoothly flowing narrative for the entertainment of his readers, nor that history could be treated as an experimental science from which inductive laws of human behaviour could be derived, nor that rigid objectivity and detachment were either possible or desirable qualities in a historian.

This seems similar to the re-emergence in recent years of imaginative historical writing. Under what circumstances, I wonder, do historians appear who value the imaginative over the rational? Despite the rejection of narrative noted by LeQuesne, the passages quoted from Carlyle’s books show, as with Dickens, a deep-seated sympathy for the poor and downtrodden. And he showed it in such a way as to condemn beourgeois complacency, often in stirring prose (and prose that I could actually read). In one passage he makes the reader grieve for the dying Dauphin in prison, then jabs at a conscience which can lament this but ignore the conditions of “poor Factory Children” that perish while no one cares (p43).

The difference between mid-19th century social reformers and Carlyle was that as Carlyle’s career continued, he saw the answer to social inequities to be the rise of heroes, and sometimes a heroic nation-state. LeQuesne says several times in the book that Carlyle was “no democrat”. He claims that Carlyle’s work on the French Revolution won the “ears of a generation”, but that his work after 1850 lost it (p55). LeQuesne calls him a “prophet” (and spends a chapter or two attempting to prove that this title is appropriate) but his work became preachy and grumpy. By then people were actively involved in reform acts of many kinds, and Carlyle’s vision of providentially-guided history and heroic leadership seemed out of place. Moreover, his work began treating the downtrodden soldiers, colonials, and workers with derision rather than understanding. LeQuesne claims this transition is masked by his focus on hero-worship (p85), but the hero is needed to guide people precisely because people are so inadequate to the task.

Thus Carlyle lost his readership, and certainly my interest — it was this sort of writing I encountered in Past and Present. LeQuesne sees his later approach as a rejection of humanity and an increase in impatience with slow progress, but it also seems to me a good foundation for dictatorship and all sorts of other nasty mechanisms that don’t trust people even with a republican system, much less a democratic one.

So in this biography, if not in Carlyle’s own works, I have gotten an idea of what Carlyle had to say and why it mattered — the goals of H.G. Wells’ own reading of him. Unfortunately, I have found myself with little sympathy for any of his ideas except those designed to help readers understand the lives of those less fortunate. Much of the rest (including anti-rationalism, imaginative historical writing, and hero-worship) I find to be at the foundation of much that is wrong with society now, as well as then.

 

Lisa’s Magical History Tour: a syllabus for London and beyond

I think sometimes that I should take a group of students to England for my History 105: History of England class. There are such opportunities. One can teach for a community college consortium that offers a short semester in London, or work with an education abroad tour company. Trouble is, these create the curriculum and/or activities, and put you in a classroom. And all you do is teach. That has never been my way.

So in the spirit of one day teaching my class in England, here is a possible syllabus. I center it on London because there are classrooms there and easy transport to elsewhere. But no classroom would be necessary, nor particularly desirable. So this is a syllabus not only for a college course, but for anyone traveling there who wants to do a history tour! I list tube stops and rail stations, but it’s better to learn the bus from wherever you are – fewer stairs, cheaper fares (get an Oyster card), and you get to see so much more. Leave each day after 9 am, and avoid all transport between 4 and 7 (eat an early supper).

None of this relies on a car. You shouldn’t drive there unless you’re British. Really. Unless you’ve memorized this. For Americans, BritRail passes can be purchased in the US only, before you leave only.

Overview

Begin at the Museum of London.

It isn’t overwhelming, but this museum effectively walks you through the entire history of England, beginning with geological time and going to the present. It’s beautifully designed, basically a syllabus in itself. Take notes in the order of chronology, then carry those with you through the rest.

Barbican

Prehistoric England

Field trip to Avebury and its barrows and museum
Why not Stonehenge? First of all, it’s a zoo, with too many tourists, and a long walk, and then you can’t even touch the stones unless you’re on a special tour. Avebury you can walk around and touch the stones (and pose with one, as I am doing), plus see barrows, plus learn about everything. For free.

Paddington Station to Swindon, then Stagecoach Bus 49 (a little over 2 hours)

Anglo-Saxon and Viking England

British Museum
Contains objects from the Sutton Hoo excavation, including the ship. And even though it isn’t exactly British history, while there be sure to go to the Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs, which are from the 7th century BC and are truly amazing.

Russell Square

Field trip to YorkYorkshire Museum
Not a huge tourist attraction, but a small and wonderful collection of everything you need to appreciate the era, including some fabulous swords.
And, if you must: Jorvik Viking Center Museum

While in York, jump eras and enjoy the medieval Shambles (don’t miss Margaret Clitherow’s chapel) and an entire Victorian re-creation at the York Castle Museum. Oh, yeah, there’s a cathedral there too…

Kings Cross (2 hours)

Roman England

The Mithraeum, The City
Mike Bloomberg’s contribution to the history of London, by moving an ancient Roman temple to Mithras where it can be seen the the basement of the Bloomberg building. Overly dramatic lighting and sound helps one imagine the temple as it would have been, but the ruins alone are very cool. But, as noted before, you’ll need to teach about the rites of Mithras.

District or Circle line – Cannon Street

Field trip to Roman Baths in Bath
Bath is really more of an 18th century place, but the Roman Baths are so complete they’re a must-see. To jump eras and go all 18th century, tour the town.

Paddington to Bath Spa (1.5 hours)

Field trip to Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex
If Roman mosaic floors are more your thing, this is the place. It was excavated in 1960 by Barry Cunliffe shortly after its discovery by a water engineer (this is the same Sir Barry who was so kind in helping get his textbook for my students). There is also a museum on site.

London Bridge (a little under 2 hours)

Norman

Tower of London
Crowded with tourists, the Norman feature here is the White Tower. Skip the Crown Jewels and crawl around the tower any way you can. It is pricey, at £23/adult, but you can also see the Bloody Tower and the Royal Mint exhibit. The courtyard itself is of interest as it surrounds the tower and makes it easier to see how a castle worked, with central fortification and outbuildings. Also nearby is Tower Bridge, but that’s Victorian (and a damn good piece of engineering).

Tower Hill

Field trip to Hastings
The ruins of Hastings Castle are a 10-minute walk from the rail station.

Charing Cross (but also stops at Waterloo and London Bridge stations) (1 hour, 45 minutes)

Overnight field trip to Durham
Norman castle, Norman cathedral (voted best Evensong by…me!) – the place drips with Norman stuff. Plus England’s third university. If it’s summer (till mid-September), stay at UniversityRooms in the castle if you book far enough ahead.

Kings Cross (3 hours)

 


Medieval

Field trip – Canterbury Cathedral

From Private Eye

Assign The Canterbury Tales (or at least that of the Wife of Bath and one of the churchmen) then go here. Visit the site where Thomas Becket was killed and compare it to assassinations today.

from St Pancras (about an hour)

Westminster Abbey
Although finished in the 16th century, it was begun in the Middle Ages, and Chaucer is buried here. If you don’t mind missing Poet’s Corner, the best way to enjoy it is for services, since there are no crowds.

London Bridge (a little under 2 hours)

Temple Church
I couldn’t care less about The DaVinci Code, but it’s because of that book that it’s so hard to get in and see Temple Church, which is really quite lovely inside. It’s now £5 to visit, and I don’t blame them a bit, but as with all recalcitrant churches, I suggest learning a bit about Anglican traditions and going to a service (and donating accordingly, of course).

Temple or Blackfriars – it’s a little tricky to get to so see their advice


Elizabethan

While it might be tempting to go the Old Globe, it’s a new building and the performances I’ve seen have not been sterling. If you’re really into the Tudors, I’d stick to the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace instead.

Hampton Court Palace
The kitchens are fantastic! It costs more (about £20 per adult) but worth it.

 District  to Richmond, then bus R68 (a little over an hour)

Field trip to Portsmouth
Home to the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship raised in 1982. A little pricey at £17, but cheaper online in advance and how often do you get to see a 500-year-old ship?

Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour (about 1.5 hours)

English Civil War

Banqueting House
Built by Inigo Jones (1622) and featuring a ceiling painted by Rubens (enjoy looking at it from comfy bean bag seats), this is the last surviving piece of Palace of Whitehall. Charles I was executed just outside the first floor window, where they built a scaffold so everyone would have a good view. It’s mostly one giant room, so see it on the way to or from other sights on Whitehall.

Westminster

Restoration

St. Paul’s Cathedral
The original having burned down in the Great Fire (see the model at the Museum of London), Christopher Wren rebuilt nearly on the full footprint, 1675-1708.

St Paul’s

Monument
Right next to the tube station, it’s impressive and if you want to wait in the queue you can go to the top. Also built by Christopher Wren. See my discussion of the Great Fire and its commemoration in my previous post.

Monument

Greenwich
There’s the Old Royal Naval College if you can’t get enough of Christopher Wren, but the reason to go is the Prime Meridien, where time starts, and the Royal Observatory, financed by Charles II and at first housing John Flamsteed, royal astronomer and creator of a fabulous star atlas.

London Bridge to Greenwich (also by DLR over-ground train) about 25 minutes

 


18th century

Portsmouth againCaptian James Cook, Captain Bligh – so many names are associated with Portsmouth.  Nelson’s flagship The Victory is there, which is why I put this in the 18th century, but so are

St Martin-in-the-Fields church, Trafalgar Square
Not just for visiting the architecture, but instead of services go for the fantastic music (classical in the evenings, and jazz) and the Crypt Cafe underneath, which has good food and you eat right on top of the tombstones. Neo-classical architecture.

Charing Cross

Strawberry Hill, Twickenham
Horace Walpole’s neo-Gothic Georgian monstrosity. He set a trend in Gothic Revival. Not necessarily a good trend, but a trend.

  Waterloo to Strawberry Hill
 District  to Richmond, then bus R68

Osterley House
Built earlier, but reformulated by Robert Adam in the 1760s. The most complete Adam there is.

A bit tricky, but I’d take the tube to Bow Street and change to the light rail to the Langdon Park DLR station.

Industrial Revolution

London Science Museum: Energy Hall
And even beyond Energy Hall, there are fantastic exhibits about the history of agriculture and much more. Worth finding! Jump to the later industrial era at the Victoria and Albert Museum next door (be sure to eat in the Morris Room at the cafe), then walk up Brompton Road to Harrods (although the current building is actually Edwardian).

South Kensington


Victorian

Old Operating Museum and Herb Garret, discussed elsewhere on this blog, it’s a long hike up a small windy staircase but the payoff is the only operating theatre from this era, where they now give lectures on the history of medicine, plus a garrett full of herbal remedies and old medical instruments. (For jumping eras, the Shard, Southwark Cathedral, and Borough Market are all nearby)

London Bridge

— or — Grant Museum of Zoology, a Victorian museum still used by the University of London. Lots of squishy dead animals in jars — very cool.

Euston Square

Leadenhall Market
Don’t go on a Saturday if you want to eat or shop — it’s in The City so not much is there on the weekends except the buildings. And yes, yes, it was in Harry Potter.

Monument

Victoria Embankment
Walk along the river. The Houses of Parliament are Victorian neo-gothic, and there are statues from the Victorian era, and representing Victorian people, along the way, especially in Victoria Embankment Gardens. If you prefer the southern route (no traffic! pedestrians only!), try Queen’s Walk.

Red House, Bexleyheath
Not quite a field trip, but a little out of the way south of London. Home of William Morris, completed in 1860, with lovely designs and secret paintings on the walls.

Charing Cross, Victoria, Cannon Street to Bexleyheath, then 15 minute walk

Field trip to Oxford for the Natural History Museum/Pitt Rivers Museum
Covered elsewhere on this blog, you can’t get more Victorian than these.


Fin de Siecle, First World War, Between the Wars

Imperial War Museum
Also good for the Blitz.

Elephant and Castle, then walk

Memorial in Foxton, sponsored by William Briggs

Every memorial cross in every town
Most towns have a memorial cross to the fallen of the First World War. In London, there’s the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the memorial to war animals in Park Lane.  Every cathedral and many churches have memorials. Poppies are still visible on memorials and still for sale as pins, and not just because of the centenary.

Barbican

Senate House

Part of the University of London, it was begun in 1932 and is hugely Art Deco. During the world wars it was used by the Ministry of Information, inspiring both Graham Greene and George Orwell to use it as fearful ministries in their books. It’s used a lot in movies. The area of Bloomsbury which is next to it was the home of the Bloomsbury Set (writers including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey, plus artists like Vanessa Bell).

Russell Square

 


World War II

Cabinet War Rooms
Technically part of the Imperial War Museum, the war rooms are expensive at £19/adult and can be crowded. They were opened in 1984, which is “new”, so many people haven’t seen them yet (including me).

Westminster

HMS Belfast
Also part of the Imperial War Museum, it’s right there on the Thames, and it’s enormous. The ship saw action in World War II, but more in Korea and as an Arctic exploration ship. You can climb up and down the stairs and visit re-created areas (the galley and sick bay are especially good) with mannikins so real they’re kind of spooky.  A visit is easily combined with Old Operating Theatre and other Southwark attractions to jump eras.

London Bridge

Field trip to Dover – for the intrepid only!
If you can go here without singing “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover“, you haven’t seen enough old movies. You can visit the tunnels but you have to get a ticket and then walk a long way to get to the tunnels.

Victoria Station (about 2 hours) to Dover Priory, then it’s a couple of miles so Bus 60, then a long (American) walk — worth a taxi, and they’ll call one for you from the visitor centre when you’re done

 


Post-war, 1950s-1970s

Dennis Severs’ house
Part installation art, part history, partly bizarre, created by an American. You need to book in advance and it’s not really marked on the outside. Only a few people may go in at a time. The three floors are supposed to represent a Flemish family’s house from the 17th to 20th centuries, but by the time you get done you’re celebrating the coronation of Elizabeth II. Must be experienced to be understood.

Liverpool Street, then walk

National Theatre
The company is a bit older than the architecturally controversial building, which opened in 1977, so it was new when I first went there, and I felt very welcome. Like the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House, it’s a public theatre. There has always been a sense that it belongs to the people, that its purpose is to provide a creative space for the city and its populace. Ticket prices are good and performances excellent.

Waterloo

Camden Market

Carnaby Street may not be what it was, but Camden is as close as you can get to the spirit of 1960s London.

Camden Town


Late 20th-21st century

Tate Modern
There is no better venue for modern art. Open till 10 pm Friday and Saturday. Take the lift to the Restaurant and pretend you’re looking for something, just to see the view.

London Bridge or Southwark, then walk

Millenium Bridge
Right out back of the Tate Modern is the pedestrian bridge. Apparently it had a swaying problem at first, but it was corrected. From the bridge, which crosses the Thames to near St Paul’s, you can see many of the newer landmarks of London.

 

So that’s Lisa’s Magical History Tour. Enjoy!

On this site

There is nothing more basic to history than the idea that things change. Buildings are torn down to make way for what society needs at the time, or what business decides it needs. In Britain, buildings can be saved by being “listed” as Grade I, II*, or II. Grade I is for places like Buckingham Palace. Listed buildings cannot be torn down or altered without permission, so people often complain when they want to make upgrades on their listed house. The idea goes back to a monument protection act in 1882.

Not all places that are lost were torn down, of course. The Great Fire of London in 1666 did a number on the whole city, destroying many buildings. Commemoration of these places is also part of history. Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire began in a bakery is commemorated on the site:

It’s almost as if the bakers themselves have taken responsibility. Around the corner is Christopher Wren’s enormous monument to the fire, somewhat hidden by modern buildings.

 

This always strikes me as a monument to the resilience of an extraordinary city. But in the Museum of London is the other part of the monument, a reminder of the ability of humans to blame each other for their differences.

 

Put up in 1681, it blames Catholics for the fire. Another example of how monuments are interpretive objects, not just memory, as I’ve written before about Confederate monuments in the American Civil War. The British get the idea of putting objectionable history in a museum so people can think about it, not just pass it on their way to work.

In my own research, removed and altered buildings are more of an issue. The University Correspondence College in Cambridge looked like this:

This trip I stopped by Parker’s Piece, which the College overlooked. It was, appropriately, Freshers’ Day on the Piece, with a festival to welcome incoming students to the University of Cambridge. And here, where the UCC used to stand, is the carpark I’d heard about.

Isn’t it lovely, with the cars hidden by white slats? When I mentioned to a Cambridge resident and distance education expert over coffee that it was a shame that one had to tear down such a beautiful building, his remark was, “for those who like that sort of thing”. We agreed it had been a Victorian monstrosity. I just happen to like Victorian monstrosities.

In other places, buildings remain but have been repurposed.

Up on Kilburn Road in London is the site of the old Henley House School. Here J.V. Milne was headmaster, and H.G. Wells was a schoolmaster. But it’s A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, who gets the plaque. And the buildings are now flats.

The old site of the laboratories at South Kensington, where Wells learned biology with T.H. Huxley, has been absorbed into the Victoria and Albert Museum photographic archive and library which, unfortunately, has no photos of the original labs. These might be at what South Ken became, the Imperial College, but that’s a search for another trip. Outside, however, the building remains.

Sometimes historic sites are uncovered in the process of creating new sites. There are several rivers under the streets of London (the Fleet comes to mind). Walbrook River was the water supply for an ancient Roman site which included a temple to Mithras. According to the publicity, it was discovered in the 1960s and reconstructed hastily at a nearby site. I certainly never knew it was there, and I couldn’t find anything on the internet about its existence prior to now.

Michael Bloomberg, creating his European headquarters on the old site, had the temple moved back to near where it had been, and gifted the City with a tourist destination. You can now see the Mithraeum below his building. Extraordinary amounts of money have been spent. It is free, but timed tickets are required, and only 20 or so people are allowed in for a timed visit. The steps down to the temple mark the archaeological eras on the wall. Sound and lighting effects (wonderfully cheap LED lighting effects — I couldn’t have done better in my days as a theatrical lighting designer) make it an “experience”. 600 of the items they excavated are in a case in the waiting area.

Having spent a number of years in the theatre myself, it always intrigues me when history becomes theatre. Sometimes people’s imaginations need to be encouraged in order to engage the past at all, and of course Bloomberg and others employed archaeologists and historians, which is always a good thing. However, I remember being at a conference on visual history in Durham, and hearing a historian who had worked in Stratford-upon-Avon. They were creating Shakespeare’s schoolhouse as a tourist attraction, and had hired historians to verify the details. The trouble is, there is no evidence at all of which school Shakespeare attended, whether the school would still exist, or whether he even attended school there or elsewhere. This has not stopped it from becoming an attraction, refurbished as accurately as possible to the period.

As well as including things that may not have happened, artistic license for history can also leave things out. The Mithraeum, while noting the slaying of a bull as sacred to the proceedings there, does not mention the gay orgies that were an integral part of the religion. I suppose that would be a bit much for the tourists.

 

Too Wilde

I usually don’t do theatre reviews, but since I’m studying the Victorian era it seems appropriate to do so for a play by Oscar Wilde.

The Importance of Being Earnest, reputed to be Wilde’s funniest play and certainly his most performed, is now playing at the Vaudeville in London. Some interesting interpretive decisions have been made.

One of the main characters, Algernon, plays piano in the opening scene and gets a kiss from a character who looks like Wilde, who then dashes off-stage. No problem there. Wilde sometimes spoke at the end of his plays, and it was charming to have him appear, just for a moment. But then, throughout the first section, Algernon flirts with, touches, and shares cigarettes with his manservant, as if the two are in an intimate relationship.

I have no objection at all to gay relationships. I do object when class lines are crossed in a play which makes fun of such class distinctions, most often by having its central elitist characters make ongoing references to the unsuitability of the lower orders. It is not unlikely that Algernon would sleep with men. However, despite the fact that this sort of thing occasionally occurred, it is unlikely that he’d sleep with his own servant.

Wilde himself, of course, was the lower class participant in his love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. I know some of Wilde’s history and sympathized with the director’s efforts to get his story and his sexuality into the play. The problem is that it isn’t there. Even though “Earnest” was his last play before he was arrested for sodomy, and Alfred’s father was angry with him, the play is devoid of anything pertaining to his personal life. It is a brutal, straightforward critique of late Victorian class and manners, not gender or sexuality.

So it was disconcerting to have Algernon pinching Jack on the behind, or everyone engaging in stolen kisses (making sure to show two female servants doing so).

Even if one could find gaity within the subtext, a director trying to demonstrate it should bring it out in the text. Instead, the actors all spoke their lines at breakneck speed — the humor was there (Wilde will out) but the lines were declared loudly. There was no slyness or subtlety to the delivery. Algernon was consistently declaratory, Jack was consistently perturbed. It reminded me of Bialystock and Bloom in The Producers, but had less warmth to the relationship.

There are sexually-tinged moments in the text. The female characters clearly have sexual desires for their “Earnest” men, and both were delightful in this regard.

I understand that we live in a time when gender and sexuality are top political and social issues, and I also understand that plays need to be updated to appeal to contemporary audiences. But with this one, the central conflict is still very much present in today’s society. People still look down on others for various reasons, and Wilde’s wit about pretentiousness still applies. There is no need for an update.

The actors did a wonderful job with the direction they’d been given. Perhaps the director could have listened more to Wilde.

The balcony at the Vaudeville is called the “Grand Circle” — it’s still way up there