chapter  3
29 Pages

Mirrors: reflection, recognition, remediation

In Chapters 1 and 2, surfaces yielded to light’s rays as paper, canvas and muslin revealed their flexible textures of transparency. By contrast this chapter concerns itself with surfaces of mirrored glass that dramatically resisted light’s attempts to transude its fragile material boundaries. Prior to the nineteenth century, mirrors tended to be small, expensive and rarely seen in public spaces. However, they increased in size as glass manufacturing processes moved from the production of crown glass (small blown discs of irregular thickness) to cylinder or sheet glass (also blown but considerably larger, flatter and smoother in appearance). Glass, as Isobel Armstrong (2008) has so persuasively argued, was a defining feature of the Victorian cultural and imaginative landscape. Undoubtedly the most spectacular example of this was the Great Exhibition’s Crystal Palace of 1851, constructed entirely from glass and iron. While exceptional in scale and vision, the material substance of the Crystal Palace was increasingly found in more everyday locations across the built environment as the century progressed. From shopping arcades to railway stations, Victorian cities came to be thoroughly glazed and mirrored at every opportunity. Bright, shining reflections were now an integral part of urban life.