...The Canterbury set the music-hall standard. However, as Lee Jackson argues in his lively and superbly researched history Palaces of Pleasure, it is erroneous to take a London-centric view of music-hall history ... Jackson’s dense and ambitious book roundly dispels the myth of Queen Victoria’s puritanical, oft-quoted phrase: 'We are not amused.' She probably never said it. On the contrary, he argues, and despite the formal photographs of the era, which depict grim, hatchet-faced people in dark funereal colours, the Victorians were very much amused.
'People mutht be amuthed,' says the lisping Mr Sleary in Dickens’s Hard Times. 'They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working, they ain’t made for it.' Palaces of Pleasure demonstrates in dazzling multiplicity the truth of this view, as Lee Jackson investigates the 19th-century 'invention' of the public house, the gin palace, the music hall, the dancing-room, the palace of varieties, the exhibition ground, the seaside resort and the football field ... The author is a serious academic, his researches oceanic and his arguments exhaustive, his subject as much economic as social history. But he delights in examples of Victorian idiocy ... A giddy delight sometimes breaks through Mr Jackson’s sober researches, as if he is personally entranced by the Victorians’ passion for amusement ... Readers of this scholarly but intoxicating book will share the author’s glee.
...[an] engaging account ... As Jackson acknowledges, some of this is 'well-trodden historical territory', and his book includes a number of overlaps with earlier accounts ... What’s new in Jackson’s book falls into two areas. The first is some fascinating background on the rise of London’s gin palaces, which created panic in middle-class observers when they noticed that the gaudy decor of these working-class venues – all shiny plate glass and flaring gas jets – was hard to distinguish from their own favourite West End shops ... The second original element is Jackson’s response to the metropolitan bias in many earlier histories.
...[a] beguiling study of the 19th-century entertainment industry ... Mr. Jackson may have other oppositions in view...but in the end nearly everything he has to say takes us back to the famous line in Twelfth Night about virtue never being able to see off the attractions of cakes and ale ... If Mr. Jackson has a thesis to prove, the great strength of his book lies in its attention to detail. For on one level, Palaces of Pleasure is merely a gigantic tableau of bygone life...