In the midst of his term as head of state, Lord Raymond stumbles on extramarital love in a poor artist’s garret.
One element Mary Shelley “ripped from the headlines” to feed the plot of The Last Man was 1824’s long-delayed establishment of a National Gallery of Art in London, and the question of who should design the new museum to finally house it. The winning bid, as built, has undergone repeated expansions (there’s one happening now, in fact) since it opened in 1837 on the north side of Trafalgar Square. In design it bore no resemblance to Evadne Zaimi’s competition entry in the book.
But John Nash, the original designer of Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, and a host of other projects for the notorious Prince Regent and eventual George IV, created something with the Royal Pavilion at Brighton that recalls the way Evadne’s design “combined and unified, by an effort of genius, her flawless taste with her remembrance of the great buildings she’d known in the east.” I was able to visit the place in 2002, and it’s truly wonderful. Though written (mostly) to be a more sympathetic character than King George ever was, Lord Raymond shares a lot of his qualities. Thanks to Internet Archive, you can feel the atmosphere of his fictional Protectorate emanating from the pages of this vintage guide: