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January 14, 2013

The Great Exhibition of 1851

In the Bleak House classes today I talked about the Great Exhibition of 1851 as one important context in which to situate the novel. These watercolours by Henry Clarke Pidgeon give an idea of the objects on display and, in the second picture, the size and scale of the Crystal Palace:

Watercolours of Great Ex

Watercolour 2

The building itself is interesting because the iron and glass architecture produced an unfamiliar experience of space, disrupting perceptions of size, distance and scale - seemingly objective, stable categories of understanding one's position in the world. I've written a bit more about this here.

The Great Exhibition also provides context for Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone: the "moonstone" itself was inspired by the Koh-I-Noor diamond which was on display at the Exhibition:

diamond.png

(visitors viewing the Koh-I-Noor)

The Guardian's "From the Archive" series brought to light a piece about the Exhibition shortly after its opening in 1851, noting that "the English showed most curiosity about the foreign half of the exhibition, while foreigners eagerly inspected the British department", and briefly mentioning the Koh-i-noor which "appeared to be the chief object of attraction among the fairer portion of the assemblage".

I've written more about the Great Exhibition and connections on my research blog.


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