Abstract for Text, Artefact, Identity: Horace Walpole and the Queer Eighteenth Century (15-16 February, 2019)
I’m thrilled that my paper ‘Inheriting Strawberry Hill: Shared Practices and Shared Spaces’ has been accepted for next year’s conference Text, Artefact, Identity: Horace Walpole and the Queer Eighteenth Century. The conference brings together scholars and curators from the disciplines of Literature, Cultural History, Art and Architectural History, and Heritage to investigate LGBTQ perspectives on the ‘long’ eighteenth century. The abstract for my paper is included below.
Inheriting Strawberry Hill: Shared Practices and Shared Spaces
This paper will examine Anne Seymour Damer’s brief inheritance and ownership of Horace Walpole’s home Strawberry Hill, following his death in 1797. Although much of the scholarship on the house to date has focused on the design and decoration of Walpole’s gothic-revival edifice, comparatively little research has been conducted on the significance of Damer’s acquisition of the property. Building upon the extensive body of literature on Walpole and sexuality, this paper shifts focus to consider his relationship with Damer, another figure whose sexual orientation has been the subject of intense speculation. Positing Damer’s inheritance of Strawberry Hill as Walpole’s attempt at creating a queer familial legacy for his home, the paper situates this transaction in relation to the interconnected contexts of ownership and loss, emotion and materiality. Alongside a consideration of Damer’s inheritance of Strawberry Hill, which will be identified as a shared space enjoyed by both her and Walpole, the paper will also examine the pair’s shared practices revolving around the house, specifically their coactive extra-illustration of copies of Walpole’s A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole (1784). In so doing, the paper will demonstrate the centrality of the relationship between materiality, queer sociability, and emotion in our understanding of both Strawberry Hill and the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century home more broadly.
Serena Reading, by James Hopwood Sr, published by Vernor, Hood & Sharpe, after George Romney
stipple engraving, published 1 October 1811 5 7/8 in. x 3 7/8 in. (148 mm x 99 mm) paper size. National Portrait Gallery.
I’m hugely excited that my paper ‘‘Pledges of an highly-prized friendship’: Anna Seward, Portraiture, and the Poetics of Exchange’ was accepted for the 2019 conference, Constructions of Love and the Emotions of Intimacy, 1750-1850, which examines the roles love and intimacy played in interpersonal relationships throughout this period. My abstract is included below.
‘Pledges of an highly-prized friendship’: Anna Seward, Portraiture, and the Poetics of Exchange
This paper unpacks the complex networks of emotional, artistic, and poetic exchange that surrounded a highly emotional portrait-object: a printed version of George Romney’s painting Serena given to Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831)—the so-called ‘Ladies of Llangollen’—by the poet Anna Seward (1742-1809). Seward identified the image as a ‘perfect similitude’ of her deceased step-sister Honora Sneyd, so much so that the print played an active role in Seward’s commemoration of their lost friendship. Like Butler and Ponsonby’s own infamous ‘romantic friendship’, Seward and Sneyd enjoyed an intensely close and deeply affectionate relationship that flouted social norms, with both Sneyd’s marriage to Richard Edgeworth in 1751, and her eventual death in 1780, devastating the poet. Discussing both Seward’s copy of the print, as well as Butler and Ponsonby’s facsimile, the paper places the image within two contexts: firstly, in relation to Seward’s volume of poetry Llangollen Vale with Other Poems (1796), a sentimentalising series of verses dedicated to Seward’s intimate relationships with Butler, Ponsonby, and Sneyd; and secondly, within an intricate display of gifted portraits at Plas Newydd, Butler and Ponsonby’s home at Llangollen in Wales. Using methodologies from the history of the emotions, material culture studies, and queer theory, it will demonstrate the image’s deep embedment within Seward’s emotional and creative consciousness: on the one hand, allowing Seward to actively ruminate and comment upon her close connections with Sneyd, Butler, and Ponsonby; and on the other, functioning within a dynamic web of literary, material, and loving gestures enacted between Seward and her friends.
The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, often abbreviated to AIDS Memorial Quilt, is the largest piece of folk art in the world, and is dedicated to the lives of people who have died from AIDS-related causes. The above image shows just a tiny portion of this amazing object, which weighs around 54 tonnes, and is continuously being updated and added to. You can read more about the quilt here: http://www.aidsquilt.org/
Each of the quilt’s panels is roughly the size of an average grave – a specific choice meant to evoke the fact that those who died from AIDS often didn’t receive funerals due to the social stigma surrounding the condition. Using the traditional association between quilts and familial or social relationships, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt employs the quilted form as a highly evocative emotional gesture. At once massive in scale – as the below image of the Quilt powerfully demonstrates – and characterised by tiny, intricate detail, the Quilt presents this relationship on two levels. Firstly, its massiveness highlights the sheer and unbelievable scale of the condition, an immediate, arresting, and heartbreaking sight. Secondly, the highly personal nature of the individual panels – often made by grieving friends and family – highlights the devastating impact of AIDS on an individual level.
Collage – particularly these kinds of ‘folk’ our ‘outsider’ manifestations – lies outside of ‘high art’ as it is traditionally understood. However, objects like the Quilt demonstrate its potential to disrupt not only aesthetic narratives, but social ones, bringing crucial issues and minority identities to the forefront of art historical conversation.
First up, I really enjoyed watching Dr Juliet Shields’ fortuitously timed lecture, ‘Did Sir Walter Scott Invent Scotland?’, which comes just ahead of my lectures on Scott’s legacy, visual representation, and his home of Abbotsford, which begin next week.
Secondly, I’m excited to see the National Museum of Scotland’s new free exhibition, Scottish pottery: Art and Innovation, which examines the wide range of pottery produced in the last 250 years.
I was interested to see that The John Rylands Library is hosting the event Rip It Up: A Celebration of the Counter-Culture, which includes a zine workshop. Thanks to their evocative collaged forms, zines are something that I’m becoming increasingly interested in. Due to their strong counter-cultural, extra-canonical nature, the production and consumption of zines can be a useful way to explore minority and non-heteronormative identity, something that I’d like to investigate in the future.
I’m looking forward to spending a few hours reading the latest volume of the Cahiers Victoriens et Édouardiens journal, a special issue entitled Object Lessons: The Victorians and the Material Text.
The Morgan Library’s new exhibition, I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson, examines twenty-four poems as well as ‘an array of visual material, including hand-cut silhouettes, photographs and daguerreotypes, contemporary illustrations, and other items that speak to the rich intellectual and cultural environment in which Dickinson lived and worked’.
This post about the wallpaper collector Suzanne Lipschutz is full of beautiful examples of vintage wallpapers.
I enjoyed reading a number of blog posts this week, including Shane Doyle’s post for Notches Blog (which is a perennial favourite of mine) ‘Local Sexual Cultures and the Response to HIV/AIDS Along the Uganda-Tanzania Border‘, which explores the history of how HIV understood within African communities. Hailey Maxwell’s post ‘DECAPITATION IN THE “LOW” SURREALIST REVOLUTION‘ is fascinating exploration of what ‘revolution’ is.
The following workshops and conferences also caught my eye this week:
CFP: International Design Organisations (Brighton, 8-10 Nov 17)
CFP: On the Matter of Blackness in Europe: Transnational Perspectives (May 4-5, 2017)
CFP: Corporeal Materiality (Dallas, 8 Apr 17)
CFP: David B. Warren Symposium on American Material Culture and the Texas Experience
CONF: Private Collecting and Public Display (Leeds, 30-31 Mar 17)
CONF: Symbolic Articulation (London, 10 Mar 17)
CFP: Culture on the Move in Edwardian Britain (Lancaster, 8-9
CFP: The material culture of exploration and academic travel, 1700-1900
Finally, I was thrilled to see that the National Trust and National Archives are hosting the event, ‘Queer city: London club culture 1918 – 1967‘, which will re-create the interiors of The Caravan, London’s queer-friendly members club of 1934.
Photo via @
A number of institutions are seeking to preserve the material culture and oral history of last week’s Women’s Marches: the Bishopsgate Institute (London) are collecting placards, signs, and posters made as part of the event, while History Workshop Journal issued a call for contributions for reflections from those who attended.
The following journals, CFPs, and events also caught my eye:
TOC: ABE Journal – Architecture Beyond Europe, Issue 9-10, 2016
Lent term Things that Matter programme
Workshop African Americans and the Making of Early New England
GSA Seminar: Feminist Scholar-Activism and the Politics of Affect
York Summer Theory Institute in Art History 2017
CFA: NEH Summer Institute: Beyond East and West: Exchanges and Interactions across the Early Modern World (1400-1800)
CFP: Journal18 – Coordinates (Spring 2018)
CONF: Early Modern Viewers and Buildings in Motion (Durham, 25 Feb 2017)
CFP: Queer Modernism(s)
CFP: Evidence of Feeling: Law, Science and Emotions in Modern Europe
CFP: Women’s and Gender History Symposium (Urbana-Champaign)
I also enjoyed Will Pooley’s post ‘Write regularly‘, which provided both interesting reflection on, and practical responses to, this oft-heard advice.
Finally, check out Charlotte Mathieson’s fascinating review of the Victorians Decoded: Art and Telegraphy exhibition, on at the Guildhall Art Gallery.
Thanks to a 2016 Research Travel Grant from the Design History Society, I was able to conduct crucial primary research for the completion of my monograph, which is provisionally titled Home Ties: Materiality, Sociability and Emotion in British Domestic Space, 1750-1840. It is the first study to focus on the complex relationship between emotion, identity, and the material culture of the home during this period, exploring how the decoration of domestic space allowed contemporaries to express themselves, to show affection to their loved ones, and to construct the homes in which they lived.
Specifically, a Design History Society Research Travel Grant enabled me to conduct research for three of the book’s chapters, which examine descriptions of interior design in the travel writing of Caroline Lybbe Powys, reputation management and the interiors of John Wilkes’s retirement cottage on the Isle of Wight, and Anne Seymour Damer’s inheritance of Horace Walpole’s Gothic revival home, Strawberry Hill, in turn. At the British Library, I consulted the papers, journals, and correspondence of Caroline Lybbe Powys, Anne Seymour Damer, and John Wilkes, whilst at the Royal College of Surgeons, and the Wellcome Library, I viewed the correspondence of Mary Berry, a close friend of Damer and Walpole. I discovered many exciting finds in archives, including a number of previously unknown portraits, as well as a recipe for shellwork cement shared between friends, highlighting the collaborative nature of such craft practices. I also read many letters describing key elements of the interiors of Walpole and Damer’s homes, which I will continue to think about during my forthcoming research trip to Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library, where I’ll also be investigating the relationship between the two figures.
The Grant also allowed me to visit Strawberry Hill itself, which has been the subject of a sensitive restoration and was reopened to the public in 2010. Being able to walk through the spaces so lovingly described by its owners and viewers was immensely important and highly evocative, particularly for a project concerned with issues of emotion and experience. The visit also revealed that despite the importance of Damer and Walpole’s relationship, the narratives of queer inheritance and ownership that are at the heart of my book chapter are entirely absent from Strawberry Hill’s current public presentation.
I’m excited to utilise this archival research in my forthcoming monograph, and would like to thank the Design History Society, the British Library, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Wellcome Library for making this research possible.
N.B. A version of this post will also appear on the Design History Society blog.