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Title: 'All bundled together in endless confusion' : museums, collecting and material practices in late Victorian culture
Author: Addyman, Mary Elizabeth
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2016
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Abstract:
This thesis examines how collecting was constructed through print culture in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It suggests that private collecting deviated from the modes of selection, arrangement and display which an increasingly professionalised museum culture employed to render their collections ‘useful’; that is, to make and transmit meaning. It argues that when private collections strayed from these ideal conditions, they threatened rational methods and structures through which meaning was made, and so were derided and marginalised in Victorian literature and culture. From literature’s frequent depictions of maniacal collectors, and through an examination of the collections held at the Cuming Museum, London, I develop two lines of inquiry into the borders between useful collecting and mad accumulation. The first part, ‘too close’, interrogates the collector’s touch, and asks what was at stake when objects were apprehended without the glass cabinets and velvet ropes of nineteenth-century museum displays. It sets out how the museum’s restriction of the tactile sense played a part in the transmission of linear, positivist narratives, and explores touch’s potential for inaugurating an affective relationship between people and things. It uses relics, which were prized in private collections and suppressed in museums, as a prism through which to examine Victorian attitudes toward corporeal knowledge. It also examines the relationship of these contexts to Victorian literature through a sustained analysis of the works of the nineteenth century’s most prolific writer of collectors, Henry James. The second section, ‘too much’, probes the problems with superabundance in nineteenth century collections. It interrogates three loci around which Victorian anxieties about excess were concentrated: the miser, the domestic interior and the lumber room. Examining the ways that textual productions helped to shape the meanings of excess in these contexts, it shows that cultural injunctions against copious collections stemmed from a fear that they exposed systems of creating meaning to irrationality. By investigating the ways in which nineteenth-century print culture, including fictions by Charles Dickens, Vernon Lee, and other writers in the periodical press defined the conceptual boundaries of collecting, this thesis interrogates the idea of ‘the collection’ itself, and highlights practices and practitioners that have not historically laid claim to that label. It argues that what is at stake in the definition of legitimate, useful collecting is access to the means of making knowledge itself.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.704099  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature
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