“Refer to the Big Drawer!”

The main building of the Nijni Novgorod fair, C19th.

Windows into History… in Wonderland 5.

We have a connecting theme this month: Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Dodgson was not generally keen on foreign travel, but in 1867 he did go abroad on a tour of Europe with his friend Rev. Henry Liddon, with his ultimate goal to explore Russia, a country that fascinated him.  In particular, he wanted to see the Nijni Novgorod fair, an important event for Russian commerce and entertainment, held annually until 1929.  The following quote is taken from The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, written by Dodgon’s nephew Stuart Dodgson Collingwood and published in 1898, which contains some quotes from Dodgon’s own journal of the trip:

One of the objects of the tour was to see the fair at Nijni Novgorod, and here the travellers arrived on August 6th, after a miserable railway journey. Owing to the breaking down of a bridge, the unfortunate passengers had been compelled to walk a mile through drenching rain.

“We went to the Smernovaya (or some such name) Hotel, a truly villainous place, though no doubt the best in the town. The feeding was very good, and everything else very bad. It was some consolation to find that as we sat at dinner we furnished a subject of the liveliest interest to six or seven waiters, all dressed in white tunics, belted at the waist, and white trousers, who ranged themselves in a row and gazed in a quite absorbed way at the collection of strange animals that were feeding before them. Now and then a twinge of conscience would seize them that they were, after all, not fulfilling the great object of life as waiters, and on these occasions they would all hurry to the end of the room, and refer to a great drawer which seemed to contain nothing but spoons and corks. When we asked for anything, they first looked at each other in an alarmed way; then, when they had ascertained which understood the order best, they all followed his example, which always was to refer to the big drawer.”

The main building of the Nijni Novgorod fair, C19th.

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About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in 19th Century, Alice in Wonderland, Books, History, Humor, Humour, Memoirs, Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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