The Architect's Secret: Victorian Critics and the Image of Gravity by J Mordaunt Crook - review by Frances Spalding

Frances Spalding

Weighty Matters

The Architect's Secret: Victorian Critics and the Image of Gravity


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THIS SMALL BOOK touches on a large subject: style in architecture. But do not conclude from the title that it merely revives the battle of styles in Victorian architecture. Mordaunt Crook's new study of four Victorians, only one of whom was a professional architect, makes the reader aware of 'style' in a deeper sense. The reasoning is supplied by Coventry Patmore, who, though better known as a poet and fringe Pre-Raphaelite, is here claimed to have been an architecture critic of extraordinary powers. Style, in his view, does not only clothe this or that building according to the architect's or owner's personal taste, but runs deeper: it is integral to a whole culture, and symbolic of collective ideals.

What aspirations, therefore, lay behind Victorian eclecticism? It is a question that has especial interest in our own period, now that stylistic pluralism is no longer deplored but regarded as evidence of a rich, productive chaos.

The model behind these essays is John Summerson's Victorian Architecture: Four Studies in Evaluation. Both

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