Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Crystal Palace: The Diary of Lily Hicks, London 1850-1851

The Crystal Palace: The Diary of Lily Hicks, London 1850-1851

Frances Mary Hendry
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Scholastic UK, 2001   ISBN: 978-0439997393

Lily has come to live and work in the house that her master, Joseph Paxton, has rented in London for his cousin Mrs. McKenzie who has come to live in London with her husband Major McKenzie and her two children Laura and Edgar. Lily hopes that she will learn many new skills which might make it possible for her to become a housekeeper in a grand home one day. She is quite content with the new arrangement except for one thing - Master Edgar McKenzie is a horrid child who is always trying to find ways to get the servants in trouble.

Lily’s master Mr. Paxton is often in London these days because his design has been chosen for the great glass exhibition hall that is being built in Hyde Park. A pet project of the Prince Consort, Prince Albert, the hall (which came to be called The Crystal Palace) promises to be a splendid building and Lily greatly enjoys going with the family to see how the project is progressing.

Then a number of events take place which makes life very difficult indeed for Lily and she begins to wonder if she will be able to keep her job let alone aspire to being a housekeeper one day. Master Edgar manages to cause a great deal of trouble and when he is finally caught, everyone wonders how the family will recover from the disgrace of it all. It is only when Lily and her family step in that a solution presents itself.

It is fascinating to see what it might have been like to live ‘below stairs’ at a time when so much was happening in England. Under Queen Victoria England was experiencing many changes. Servants were starting to question the rigid class system, women were talking about trying to get the vote, and the world was opening up and communication and travel were becoming easier.

The author has succeeded in giving Lily’s ‘voice’ great clarity, humor, and courage. As the days and weeks pass by, Lily’s writings become better written as her lessons with Miss Laura McKenzie progress and we cannot help hoping that this brave young woman finds what she is looking for.