Accessibility Page Navigation
Style sheets must be enabled to view this page as it was intended.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

The College Archives
Literary quotes


Belgrave Square was built in the 1820s and 1830s and quickly became known as a desirable area to live. Novelists and playwrights have always thought so; the following are some examples:
 
Charles Dickens mentions Belgrave Square twice: In Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9) he refers to Cadogan Place as 'the one slight bond that joins two extremes; it is the connecting link between the aristocratic pavements of Belgrave Square and the barbarism of Chelsea'. Its inhabitants, he says, do not 'claim to be on precisely the same footing as the high folks of Belgrave Square and Grosvenor Place'
 
In Reprinted Pieces (1858) a collection of the stories and essays first published in the weekly periodical Household Words, Dickens dreams of a deserted city where 'In Belgrave Square I met the last man - an ostler - sitting on a post in a ragged red waistcoat, eating straw and mildewing away'
 
Anthony Trollope clearly liked the area: to begin with, in The Warden (1855) it is 'august': 'A noble old man, my august inhabitants of Belgrave Square and such like vicinity - a very noble old man'
 
Then, in Dr Thorne (1858) he says it is fashionable: 'The Duke of Omnium was, as we have said, a bachelor. Not the less on that account did he on certain rare gala days entertain the beauty of the county at his magnificant rural seat, or the female fashion of London in Belgrave Square'.
 
But it is difficult to decide what he means in Framley Parsonage (1861) when he writes: 'Oh, yes; he is a Lazarus now, so of course we are bound to speak well of him; but I should like to see him tried. I don't doubt but what he'd have a house in Belgrave Square, and become noted for his little dinners before the first year of his trial was over'.
 
WS Gilbert is more critical. In Iolanthe (1882) he reminds the audience: 'Hearts just as pure and fair May beat in Belgrave Square As in the lowly air Of Seven Dials'
 
And Oscar Wilde is cynical: In The Importance of Being Ernest (1895) he writes: 'Jack: 'I own a house in Belgrave Square .....'
Lady Bracknell '....what number in Belgrave Square?'
Jack: '149'
Lady Bracknell (shaking her head): 'The unfashionable side. I thought there was something. However, that could easily be altered.'
 
Examples can also be found in 20th century novels of Belgrave Square as an area where the wealthy lived.
 
A couple described by Nancy Mitford in Highland Fling were 'in many ways extremely economical. Unlike the type of young married couple who think it essential to have a house in the vicinity of Belgrave Square and a footman, they preferred to live in a tiny flat with no servants except an old woman and a boy'.
 
Nicholas, the narrator in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time (1962) finds that one evening he is asked to two dances 'And both of them in Belgrave Square' where the one he choses to go to is 'densely packed with girls and young men …even on the way up the stairs'.
 
And the poverty stricken heroine in Charlotte Bingham's Belgravia (1983) flees from her very rich would be seducer's 'house in Belgrave Square back to Mary 's, with the knowledge that it was at such times, when life was at its most real, that she most disliked it'.
 
Then, not in fiction but in reality, Christobel Bielenberg in The Past is Myself (1968) records an evening in wartime Germany where she meets an old acquaintance 'in the best of form, as British as the flag…We might have been back in Belgrave Square'.
 
More alarmingly, in Why Herbert Killed His Mother (circa 1934) by Winifred Holtby, when Herbert Wilkins 'on his way to his future father-in-law's house in Belgrave Square' read in the evening papers that he 'has been revealed by his mother, Mrs Wilkins, to be Herbert, the Wonder Baby' he 'did not proceed to Belgrave Square' but went to his mother's house and strangled her.
 
In a more recent novel, Piers Paul Read's Alice in Exile (2001) which is set in the years just before the First World War, it is on the way to a society ball in Belgrave Square that Alice's titled fiance begins to hint that he no longer wants to marry her.
Login
Make a Donation