The following photo essay is a stand-in for this month's Pygmalia blog. Yes, I know you were looking forward to another rambling musing in re: Galateas and such, but instead, you can thrill at the sight of various locations from The Pleasure Merchant, out in paperback and ebook (Kindle and Nook) this month!
The Pleasure Merchant; or, The Modern Pygmalion is a novel near and dear to my heart, and going around London looking first-hand for the first time at many of the set pieces was curious and intriguing. I actually teared up a bit at the sight of 12 Bloomsbury Square. I know!
I love London. It's my favorite city in the world, and tramping around all over the place seeking various addresses in real life, rather than on Google Maps, was really just such a thrill. Many thanks to my hosts Jared and Anne for hosting me as I cavorted around, being overly excited about things like... well, like putting money on an Oyster card, fumbling through change, eating curry, saying "Sorry!" to everyone, and so on and so forth. Many thanks as well to Mark and Rachel Newton for allowing me to come to the country to impose on their hospitality, as well.
So, here we go on a trip into the heart of 18th century London - as much as we can by looking at pictures of modern London! Just imagine everyone is way sicker and instead of cars and Arc'teryx jackets everyone is in carriages and wearing frock coats.
Let's start with the Royal Opera House, aka "Covent Garden," as The Pleasure Merchant does:
It was the peak of that year's season and the entertainments were so constant it seemed at times there was more to be enjoyed than people to enjoy it all. Among the delights to be taken in, Arataxerxes as drawing tears from every eye at Covent Garden, and David Garrick was still playing Jaffer in Venice Preserved at Drury Lane.
Arataxerxes premiered at this theatre, and by 1790 had been performed over 100 times. This structure, sadly not illuminated for a performance, is actually the third to be built on these premises, due to fire, so it's not the one people contemporaneous to Tom would have seen, but one does one's best.
The Strand also makes an appearance in those opening lines, though it wouldn't have been dressed for Christmas:
...and on the Strand there was a dancing pig, and a chained giant who would snap whole logs in half, hurl boulders out into the Thames, and drink anyone under the table who dared to challenge him.
(I saw the skeleton of such a giant at The Hunterian Museum, but sadly, they don't allow photos inside. Go visit, though, if you're in London... and if you have a strong stomach. Lots of specimens in jars!)
Of course, it's not like our hero Tom Dawne, that young rascal apprentice wigmaker would have been either strolling down the Strand late at night, or attending a performance at Covent Garden. No, he would be in his garret above Dray's a wig-maker and barber in St. Martin's lane, after a long day working on wigs for the gentry, thinking
of those who could afford such entertainments. After all, during the London season, the wig-makers keep busy, especially when the very rich host fancy-dress parties:
Dray's had received so many orders that Tom, Mr. Dray's almost-nephew and journeyman apprentice, wondered at the sheer volume of hair they had lying about. Given the trade at the back door of the shop, he was convinced none of the prostitutes in St. James, St. Giles, or Marylebone could possibly be wearing their own hair; it wasn't only Dray's paying three times the usual rate for locks of any quality and any color.
Rather more posh is where Tom ends up working for a gentleman by the name of Mr. Bewit: 12 Bloomsbury Square. Close to where the British Museum sits in stately majesty, Bloomsbury Square was (and is) a fashionable area of town, with its own little park. Both the house and the park play significant parts in The Pleasure Merchant, but as I'm trying to keep a bit of the mystery alive while writing about the various sets, I won't discuss why the park is relevant. Suffice it to say, one can safely watch the house from shadows of the trees.
12 Bloomsbury Square isn't the only posh house Tom visits; no, indeed, as the year wears on, he and his new master repair to the country with the rest of Mr. Bewit's family and staff. Bergamot Mews, the country seat of the Bewits for a long time, is a beautiful stately home in Somerset. I, on this trip, did not go into Somerset, but I did jaunt up to Derbyshire to visit friends, and there we toured what was open of Kedleston Hall, the home of the Curzon family.
Just look at this approach! It almost reminds me of...
"Do you like it, Tom?" asked Sabina, as they drew nearer, and could admire how the curving drive stood out handsomely from the straight, rather Grecian lines of the house. "Do you not think it a fair prospect?"
Sabina rarely addressed Tom, or even noticed his presence, so her attention surprised him. "Yes---yes ma'am, I do," he stammered. "I like it very much."
"I thought you would, she replied. "A few weeks ago, when Lady Frideswide came to tea, she asked how you liked our London residence... you replied so elegantly, and with such heartfelt praise, I knew you could not fail to appreciate the charms of Bergamot Mews."
"Every mule loves his paddock," said Hallux shrewishly, glaring at his wife.
Finally, here's one of the most important, but later-game locations from The Pleasure Merchant:
Sackville Street. Sackville Street ends up being the home of one of the most mysterious (and most... uh... eponymous) characters in the novel, whose real name I shall redact here.
Just off the impressive and imposing Regent Street, Sackville Street is quieter but very classy indeed. Though these are modern buildings, it's still lovely in the moonlight, I think... just the sort of place you'd want to live and run your strange but important business, if you were... uh... you know, in the business of... pleasure.
Okay, that's your last hint!
I hope this essay inspires those of you who haven't picked up a copy of The Pleasure Merchant to do so, and I hope for those of you who have already, that it was a fun and pleasant read. Tune in next month for my final Pygmalia blog, and have a great one! Cheers!