July 2nd, 2015
As part of Stephen’s birthday-week celebrations, we finally made it out to Brighton. Stephen wanted to be near the water, and although I am normally ambivalent about beaches of any kind, the recent heat wave had me practically begging to go somewhere with a cool sea breeze. Plus, as a life-long Pride and Prejudice fan, I just had to visit the site of Lydia and Wickham’s clandestine elopement.
Brighton today is known as a bit of a party-town, a reputation that goes at least as far back as the Regency era. The Prince Regent (and later King) George IV built a pleasure palace called the Royal Pavillon, and that was all it took to have every wild child clamoring to go to the resort town. The entire trip I kept playing Mr. Bennet’s words to Kitty in my head: “Go to Brighton?! I wouldn’t trust you as near it as Eastbourne!”
If the Royal Pavilion is any indication of Regency Brighton, it must have been outrageous and shocking. I had entered the Pavilion with some idea of what to expect, but Stephen thought it would be a cross between Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace. Boy, was he in for a surprise! The outside is an amalgamation of Indian architectural stereotypes from several regions and time periods that would never in a million years be combined together- unless, of course, you’re George IV and building a palace based on your impressions of a continent you’ve never visited. Even if the entire structure is an architectural aberration, it is a beautiful one. It gives you the feeling that you’re embarking on an adventure to an exotic and far-flung place, and it could not be a bigger departure from the Neoclassical style typical of the time. It is a bit quirky, a little weird, and a lot interesting, just like the city itself.
We walked into the palace expecting a continuation of the exterior theme, so we were surprised to see it was inspired from a different continent altogether: China. After the Crown sold the building to Brighton, they came to some kind of agreement that the Crown would lend them most of the original furniture and decorations, provided that no one be allowed to take any photographs inside (since the pieces are still owned by the Queen and part of the Royal Collection.) The audioguide kept acting like this was such a kind and generous gesture, but really, what else was she supposed to do?! How could the Queen of England possibly make use of hundreds of Chinese figurines, gilded dragons, and ornamental pagodas? She was probably just happy not to have to worry about where she was going to store it all.
Everywhere you look, there is exaggerated Oriental themes. The walls are painted to resemble Chinese jade, and the furniture is crafted from bamboo stalks. Little bells tinkle on gilded canopies above door frames covered with slithering serpents. No detail is too small. You could go ten times and see something new each trip. It was hard to even notice this attention to detail because our eyes were glued to the rooms’ centerpieces. In the dining room, a great chandelier weighing an imperial ton hangs from the claws of a 12 foot long silver-plated dragon, with smaller dragons breathing “fire” into glass globes shaped like lotus flowers, for crying out loud. The audioguide said the Prince Regent kept having to beg Parliament to help him pay off his debts. Go figure. But seriously, if you’re interested, google pictures of the interior. It is something to see.
After we had finished touring the palace, we walked in the direction of the sea. Colorful bunting decorated streets filled with outdoor cafes and quirky shops. We walked by tea mixologists, antique Edwardian jewelers, vintage clothing experts, tarot card readers, and vegan shoemakers.
Although it had just as many white-fronted hotels as the other seaside resorts we had visited, it didn’t blend into one long unending chain of cream, white, and pale yellow. This was no retiring, faded Victorian relic; it was filled with bold color, right down to the railings. Unlike the sombre black of London: Brighton’s railings were an eye-grabbing turquoise that almost exactly matched the color of the shimmering sea beyond.
The beach was filled with happy people soaking up some sun. Sun being my enemy, I didn’t share any of these positive feelings, but Stephen was thrilled with the warm weather and the water temperature.
In the end Brighton had something for both of us. I got to check another palace off my list, do some excellent window shopping, and have a little Pride and Prejudice geek-out session. Stephen got to take a dip in the sea and walk along the beach. Marital peace was maintained.