Exhibition | In Pursuit of Pleasure: The Polite and Impolite

Posted in conferences (to attend), exhibitions by Editor on September 12, 2016


Now on view at Fairfax House:

In Pursuit of Pleasure: The Polite and Impolite World of Georgian Entertainment
Fairfax House, York, 29 July — 31 December 2016

From exotica to erotica, In Pursuit of Pleasure opens a window onto the outrageous and sometimes shocking behaviour of ‘polite society’—conducted in the name of entertainment.

Fairfax House’s major summer exhibition will look at the social scene in English towns and cities including London, delving into the tempting array of decadent activities and pleasurable pursuits catering for all tastes and predilections, sometimes challenging the notions of what ‘polite’ entertainment encompassed in the eighteenth century. In Pursuit of Pleasure also specifically uncovers the richness of Georgian York’s offerings as the social capital of the North and the place to see and be seen. With Burlington’s exquisite new Assembly Rooms, the excitement of the races, as well as the city’s renowned Theatre Royal, the city enjoyed a social and cultural renaissance. The explosion of luxury retail experiences combined to make York the destination of choice for those in pursuit of refined amusement. As well as exploring its lively winter season with rounds of dinners, balls, assemblies and parties, the exhibition delves into the city’s debauched diversions, including ‘polite’ society’s taste for notorious trials, visiting prisons and public hangings, the wanton pleasures available in the city’s brothels, as well as raucous activities such as cockfighting, bear baiting and street boxing. In exploring the full gamut of York’s lively social and cultural life In Pursuit of Pleasure reveals a fascinating world of the city’s exuberant, and often times murky, past.

The Fairfax House website includes images of objects in the exhibition, including a remarkable ivory dildo (more information on that here).

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2016 Georgian Studies Symposium
Polite and Impolite Pleasures: Entertaining the Georgian City
York Hilton Hotel and Fairfax House, York, 21 October 2016

Early registration ends 30 September 2016

The Georgian era saw a huge increase in the range and variety of entertainments available to an expanding and urbanising population. In the towns and cities of Georgian Britain, urban life offered a dazzling and constantly changing kaleidoscope of pleasures that could be enjoyed for a price. The lowest and the highest forms of entertainment were catered for along with everything in between, from the cultivated recreations of the nobility through the gentility of middle-class leisure to the earthier enjoyments of the ‘common folk’.

New cultures of entertainment reflected changing patterns of work, mobility and social relations, and reflected developments in class, gender and the dynamics of personal and collective identity. The urban environment itself was affected by these changing cultures of entertainment. From London to provincial centres, industrial cities to market towns, new promenades, parks, streets and squares were developed, new theatres, assembly rooms and concert halls were built and embellished. And paralleling this brightly-lit and orderly world of polite pleasure was another, darker urban realm of more dubious diversions: prostitution and prize fights, the gambling stew and the drinking den.

From theatrical performances and musical recitals, assemblies and dances, to race meetings, boxing matches, cock fights and hangings, the fourth Fairfax House Symposium in Georgian Studies explores the theme of Georgian entertainment and the ‘polite and impolite pleasures’ of the long eighteenth century (c.1680–1830).

Keynote Speakers
Ivan Day (British and European culinary historian, scholar, broadcaster and writer)
‘Crocants, Collops, and Codsounds: Fashions in Dining and Food in Georgian Provincial Towns and Cities’
Murray Pittock (Bradley Professor of English Literature, University of Glasgow)
‘Music, Theatre, Innovation, and Resistance: Edinburgh in the First Age of Enlightenment’




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