Tag Archives: gas lighting

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!