Possibility throbs

Richard Altick

  • Palais-Royal by Richard Sennett
    Faber, 274 pp, £10.95, May 1987, ISBN 0 571 14718 6

By 1828, the courtyard of the Palais-Royal in Paris, once a fashionable bazaar, had degenerated into the commercial slum Balzac would later describe in Les Illusions Perdues: three rows of badly lit and leaky shops and sheds, the squalid premises of trades-persons ranging from booksellers to prostitutes. At that moment, the landowner, the Duc d’Orléans, decided to restore the valuable property to its former use by pulling down the ramshackle structures and erecting in their stead a pair of shining, spacious arcades with iron frameworks and roofs and walls of glass. London’s Burlington Arcade, opened a dozen years earlier, was the partial model for the new Galerie d’Orléans, but this enterprise was far to outdo it in innovative boldness and size.

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