Wednesday, 27 May 2015

a restaurant for women only

It was an innovation, a restaurant for women only. Although dining for upper- and middle-class women was already available at the various women's clubs, and although some conventional restaurants provided ladies' dining rooms discreetly located in upper storeys or side-rooms, Dorothy's was a bold modern proposition. Its door was right on the street, and it was open to all classes of women, from shop assistants to duchesses. Offering cheap wholesome fare for all, Dorothy's liberated the former from having to eat a bun in a shop and offered the latter a new kind of experience. You just bought an eightpenny dining ticket on entrance, took a seat at one of the tables and waited for your 'plate of meat, two vegetables and bread' to arrive. For an extra couple of pence you could also get pudding, and for a further penny tea, coffee or chocolate. Dorothy's was a perfect example of how, in late Victorian London, Aestheticism, liberalism and feminist sympathies could collide. The first branch of the restaurant to open, in Mortimer Street, had cream-coloured walls with 'aesthetic crimson dados' and had been made 'gay with Japanese fans and umbrellas'. The Oxford Street branch, which opened just months later, was a far more dramatic proposition, its windows hung with rich Indian curtains, its ante-room painted a deep red that offset luxurious couches, small tables and carefully selected ornaments, and its larger luncheon room featuring rows of simple tables set with glazed white cotton tablecloths surmounted by vases of fresh flowers.
Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde
Franny Moyle (2011)

A really very good biography of Constance Wilde, who led an interesting as well as tragic life. On The Dorothy Restaurant, see here.


  1. How unlikely and how interesting...

    1. I hadn't heard of these until I read this bio - though I remain fascinated by the 'buns in shops' which pops up in so many middlebrow contexts (