Light itself was permanently stained.

When in the novel The Fountain Overflows Rose Aubrey accompanies her father to the House of Commons to persuade a particular MP to help his current cause, we find out just how wily a politician he is. We also get a glimpse of the glory of the architecture:

“…I looked down for the first time on Westminster Hall. We had entered a Victorian building and had come on Shakespeare. The stone chamber was splendid like blank verse, the golden angels who held up the roof matched the poetry of earth with heavenly hymns, great embodiments of the passions had gone out a minute before, trailing their gold and crimson cloaks on the staircase that leads up the wall and into the end of the play.”

… and of the drabness of the age, mused upon while waiting in the Central Lobby:

“It was like sitting in the midst of a tureen full of gravy soup. I was growing up at the end of an age which, partly by necessity and partly by choice, was very brown. In the towns chimneys poured out smoke from open fires and kitchen ranges, and light itself was permanently stained; and town-dwellers, who then so largely set the way of thinking, romanticized the obscurity to which they grew accustomed. Such sights as a narrow shaft of light struggling over a broad dark passage aroused none of the impatience we would feel today, but rather a sense that here was something as acceptable as a succession of major chords or a properly scanned line of verse.

“The House of Commons was a supreme effort of brownness. I can remember looking at one such needle-broad shaft of sunlight that afternoon, struggling through an interior brown in itself, what with brown wood, brown paint, and brown upholstery, and made more brown because the struggling rays of defeated natural light were supplemented by the molasses of shaded gaslight.”

The Central Lobby no longer lit by gas.

Originally I had planned for the photo just above to end my post, but then I saw Susan Branch’s recent exploration with lovely illustrations of BROWN. I am drawn to Rebecca West’s descriptions as an intimate peek into another time and place, but not having lived through that dimness to see the brightening of it, Susan’s take on Brown is closer to my own!

7 thoughts on “Light itself was permanently stained.

  1. But West’s description is so very funny! And when I think of photos and movies from the early 20th Century, it feels right — the boring brown of public schools in England, the dull brownness of their dreary, rainy days. The clothing of those days, captured in between-the-wars photos — the women’s dull shoes and the ever-brown, flat hairdos. Now i’ll go read S. Branch!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I keep forgetting to mention this — perhaps you should set your live links in your posts so that they open in a separate tab. Right now, when I click on a link in your post (like the “Brown” link to S. Branch), it replaces your page. It opens in this tab and I lose your page. When you’re setting up the link, look carefully and you’ll see a box you can click that will change that – it will open all links you make in a new tab. Very helpful, and it allows your readers to easily open that new link but leave it for later, or read it when they want, instead of forcing them to read it NOW, and then click the back button to re-enter your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mary Kathryn, I fixed that one and will do the others. I used to do this all the time, but lately I had for some reason forgotten all about that option – maybe the page I was editing from? WP has different editing programs and they are always trying to get us to use the new one that they think is better but which I don’t like. 🙂

      Like

  3. As soon as I started reading this beautiful writing I thought, “Someone should tell Susan Branch about this post!” And tell you about Susan’s. But I see you already saw it. Boy, what a gift with words. I will hold the image of a tureen of gravy soup for quite sometime!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I believe it is wonderful that brown is making a come back these days.

    West certainly did create wonderful mind pictures. Did you enjoy this book? I might need to add it to my Reading Challenge of 2020.

    I hope you are feeling better….

    Liked by 1 person

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