Evening: Pleasure Gardens

Vauxhall and Ranelagh

[Click on image to enlarge] Vauxhall Gardens, drawn by Thomas Rowlandson in 1784, shows celebrities at an evening concert. In the supper box at the lower left, the diners are supposed to be James Boswell, Samuel Johnson, Hester Thrale, and Oliver Goldsmith. At the center, the Duchess of Devonshire, known for her beauty and social eminence, stands with folded arms and talks to her sister, while gossips try to overhear what they are saying. In front of the mass of people at the right, an elegant woman in white, the actress Mary "Perdita" Robinson (later a popular author) nestles with her young lover, the Prince of Wales (wearing a star), while her withered husband glowers below.

Though Vauxhall was very popular, it could also be a place for "affrays and adventures." When the respectable heroine of Frances Burney's Evelina (1778) makes the mistake of walking down a long, dark alley, she is accosted by a large party of riotous gentlemen who assume she is for hire. Ranelagh, opened in 1742, was smaller and more exclusive, with a magnificent Rotunda. "When I first entered Ranelagh," Johnson told Boswell, "it gave an expansion and gay sensation to my mind, such as I never experienced any where else."


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