Recent Reading

I’ve been working on Not Proper Enough but ended up needing to do some research about the Opera. The London Royal Opera House has a great website where I learned that the present London Opera House, built after a fire in 1858 (this date is wrongly reported in many other sources) was the site of 3 previous Opera Houses, since 1764(ish) sorry, that date was not germain to my research. In the Regency, it was The Italian Opera [House]. The first one burned down in 1809 and was rebuilt then burned again in 1858, as noted.

So, during the Regency, The Italian Opera was very exclusive. It was lit by candles and lamps until gaslight was installed around 1817. There was a saloon (for Americans, this is not a wild west bar). I do not yet have definitive evidence that women of the demimonde took upper boxes (3rd floor) and gentlemen visited there to arrange liaisons. However, I consider it likely.

There were private boxes, which appear to have been made larger in 1809.

The Royal Opera House’s website has digitized some of its collections and special collections (GOLDMINE!!!) but not the ones I wanted desperately to see. They have a massive and nearly complete collection of ephemera, including playbills for every performance, also not yet on line. Their database search results returned information that did not make sense. I was trying to get a list of Operas performed in 1817 but when I clicked on individual links in the result set, almost none of them listed performances then. So, not a trustable result.

ANYWAY, This led me to a scholar named Jane Rendell who has written extensively on Architecture and gender. Much of her research focuses on the Regency era. Alas, unless you have full access to a University library, this material is not accessible except for major money. She has one specifically on The Italian Opera but I was not able to locate it anywhere. **Sob** I did, however, get my hands on two of her articles, for $34 each. I find it ironic that Academia feels so strongly about the free flow of information yet the majority of academic research is, in essence, behind a paywall and not accessible to non-Academics.

ANYWAY, I ponied up $70 for the two articles, Jane Rendell (1999): The Clubs of St. James’s: places of public patriarchy – exclusivity, domesticity and secrecy, The Journal of Architecture, 4:2, 167-189 and Jane Rendell (1998): West End rambling: gender and architectural space in London 1800––1830, Leisure Studies, 17:2, 108-122 and they were fascinating and full of great references some of which I tracked down and have in my hot little hands.

Lord Love A Footnote!

In these two articles, Rendell talks about the way architecture serves the need of these elite men to control and describe public places. It seems to me the obverse is also true, that those architectural spaces also controlled these men and were also a source of class anxiety. There was an amazing amount of detail, all of it documented. She takes a Marxist view — which really only means that she can (and should) talk about the ways in which money affects public and private lives and, in her case, the spaces.

I also came across a book written in 1907 by the management of Brooks’s Club that has a very nice introduction and a list of every single member of Brooks’s ever, from inception to 1907. It lists the member, who recommended him, and usually a bit of biographical information. Names, people. Names and titles and why they were important enough to belong to Brooks’s.

All of which reminds me that while the internet is amazing, if you are serious about your research, the internet is only a place to start. Much of the sort of detailed information a meticulous writer needs to have is behind academic paywalls or simply not online yet. It’s in library collections and special collections. I am not able to travel to London to view the special collections at the Royal Opera, and I don’t have access/cannot afford the scholarly articles I’d love to get my hands on.

Keep in mind that even in primary sources, the date of the mid-19th century fire that burned the 2nd Italian Opera is variously reported as: 1867, 1857, 1850. I’m going to assume that the Royal Opera is most likely to be correct that it was 1858 and that was the date I saw most often. One source isn’t enough . . . And yes, I am thinking of several RWA Research presentations that were given by people who had plainly never gotten beyond Google. If you’re going to hold yourself out as an expert, Google is not enough.

So, Carolyn, How’d the Writing Go?

What writing? After my 4 hour nap this afternoon, I was reading about The Italian Opera and architecture and gendered spaces and so on. But boy do I stuff to add now!


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