(7) Chapter 4/1 cont.

With Adrian mad from heartbreak and secluded in Scotland, the crown that might have been his gets closer to Lord Raymond’s head.

As the action moves to Parliament, where several key scenes of the novel occur, it’s interesting to reflect on what Mary Shelley had in mind for this setting. The Houses of Parliament we know today were built decades after The Last Man was published. Though the novel pictures a post-monarchical future where the houses have mingled, then as now the House of Lords and the House of Commons met in separate chambers at the Palace of Westminster. A catastrophic fire in 1834 destroyed both. The House of Lords looked like this:

Hand-Colored Etching by Thomas Rowlandson, House of Lords, 1808; Metropolitan Museum of Art

Since 1548, the House of Commons had met in a former chapel, repeatedly remodeled but always too small for the ever-growing government. A research project at the University of York which resulted in a marvelous and meticulously detailed website about this Saint Stephen’s Chapel, includes a look at where Mary Shelley might have sat if she, as a woman, in the interests of research, ever attended any debates. By all accounts the hall was dimly lit and unbearably stuffy. The 14th-century stone walls were three feet thick. An effort to gain space by hacking away two feet of rock began in 1800. Wainscoting installed a century or more earlier was removed—and revealed the chapel’s original walls, covered with paintings. The ones in best condition were removed right away to the British Museum, and thus preserved.

St Stephen’s Chapel Wall Paintings, Oil, Gesso and Gold on Stone, c. 1360; British Museum

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