In the second of my IASH Twitter Takeover ‘favourite collages’ posts, I want to talk about something that you might not think about as being a collage at all – two commonplace books made c.1885 by Ellen Warter, the granddaughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey, now held at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh.
Page from the commonplace book of Ellen Warter, granddaughter of Robert Southey, Coll-1559, Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh.
A popular practice since classical antiquity, the production of commonplace books involved the compilation of excerpted texts from a broad array of writers on a variety of topics. Like traditional paper collage, then, they are collections of materials from a range of different sources, reformulated into a new object. Despite this compiled and composite nature, commonplace books are rarely conceived of in relation to collage. Instead, they tend to be discussed more as records of reading practices, knowledge exchange, and education.
Yet Ellen Warter’s commonplace books tell a more complex story than this.Warter devoted over 300 pages of her volumes to the lives and literature of the Brontë family, who were the objects of her sustained estimation, affection, and documentation. This specific emphasis upon the Brontës relates Warter’s albums to a specific type of album-making: namely, the production of volumes dedicated to literary celebrities, a practice enacted throughout the nineteenth century. Beyond this fascination with the Brontës however, the practice of commonplacing was firmly intertwined with Warter’s own family history. As the granddaughter of Robert Southey, she was part of a family whose own commonplacing and album-making spanned several generations. Warter’s grandfather, aunts, mother, and father all made, or contributed to the production of, composite volumes, a literary inheritance that places Warter’s own productions within a longer history and set of material practices. Crucially, such practices were also enacted within the broader Romantic circle, with Southey contributing to the volumes of his friends’ daughters, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Caroline Bowles, Charles Lamb, and Edward Quillinan reciprocally adding poems to the albums of Edith Southey, Warter’s mother. For Warter then, commonplacing was not only an educative practice, but an inherently social one, with her compilation of ‘Brontëana’ consistent with the collective practices of her own extended literary family.
More than the sum of their collaged parts then, Warter’s commonplace books are not only a collection of individual details and textual clippings, but evoke the broader contexts of authorship, celebrity, and collaboration.
Last week I was in London for the excellent Sibylline Leaves: Chaos and Compilation in the Romantic Period conference. In this post, I’ll try to cobble together some coherent thoughts generated by the event, particularly in terms of how the ideas raised relate to my own work on collage in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The conference marks the bicentenary of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry collection Sibylline Leaves, whose title references Virgil’s Cumaean Sibyl, and the ‘fragmentary and widely scattered state’ of her ‘leaves’. Indeed, the entire conference teemed with scattered, flying, volatile and fugitive leaves, and presented a range of approaches and ideas as to their interpretation.
Beginning with Seamus Perry’s keynote on Coleridge’s desultory nature (in terms of both his indolence and his variousness), the conference’s deep consideration of the language we use to discuss this material was incredibly evocative. Various terms were repeatedly mapped out, tested, and explored, but desultory was one to which a number of speakers returned. Likewise, Coleridge’s own play with words was also highlighted, particularly the irony in titling a collection of collected poems ‘Sibylline Leaves’, given that the Sibyll’s own leaves were never collected up again. Here then, the desultory might work as part of a self-conscious, self-reflexive consideration of the fragmented and the various.
Other panels over the two days explicitly engaged with the practices of notebook making and commonplacing, literary processes that my own work on collage also touches upon. Ruth Abbott, for example, presented fascinating work on Wordsworth’s notebooks, stressing the importance of reading such objects as whole, creative documents; whilst stressing the familial and collective nature of their production; and considering transformations of poetry, to prose, and back again.
The conference also had a ‘reading group’ type session in the middle of its first day, where we discussed Michael Gamer’s work on self-collecting in the creation of works like the Sibylline Leaves. Interestingly, Gamer employs frameworks from the history of collecting in his discussion, something I wish to adopt/adapt in my own work on literary self-fashioning and production.
Other papers stressed the materiality of Romantic literary production, from Jeremy Elprin’s wonderfully rich paper on Coleridge’s ‘Sonnet in nubibus’, which highlighted how Coleridge had transcribed the poem on a piece of seaweed, to Deidre Shauna Lynch’s magisterial second-day keynote, ‘Loose Leaves, Floral Slips and the Romantic Book’. Lynch’s keynote was particularly interesting for me as she discussed many of the objects that I have just been looking at at YCBA, and other volumes that I’m intending to see at Manchester, New York, and the Houghton Library in the future. What I was particularly struck by in Lynch’s paper however, was her emphasis on not merely the compilation of such volumes, but their related disentanglement: ranging from the moment of their acquisition (i.e. before their integration within the album/volume/book); ideas surrounding their ‘clippability’; or the potential of these gathered leaves to become loose once more. This was a revolution in my thinking, as my definition for collage in my postdoctoral project has been almost wholly concerned with the coming together of objects to make a new whole; disparate elements, brought together in a new formulation. Yet Lynch’s paper highlighted that these were indeed ‘Sibylline Leaves’, papers that behaved badly, and whose very precarity was actively reflected upon and visually acknowledged by their makers.
I presented my own research on the commonplace books of Ellen Warter at the end of the first day of the conference (my abstract is available here), and received some very provocative and encouraging feedback. I’m excited to use some of the frameworks I encountered at the event in developing this research further, particularly Lynch’s emphasis on the highly self-aware nature of the Romantic album.
Queen Charlotte (detail; 1771), Johan Joseph Zoffany.
First up this week, this Apollo Magazine review of Yale Centre for British Art‘s exhibition Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World, which runs until April 30th (frustratingly, just one day before I arrive there as a visiting scholar!).
Secondly, I read Alice Kelly’s article ‘How to make writing in the humanities less lonely‘, which discusses TORCH’s writing group with interest, as the group was a crucial source of inspiration for our own version in Edinburgh.
I thoroughly enjoyed this post from the National Museum of Scotland on Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament, which is an important object within the museum’s newly curated art and design galleries.
The Storifys for each day of the three days of the War Through Other Stuff conference are now available here. I’ll be posting some thoughts from the conference in an upcoming blog post next week.
I was also captivated by this Victoria and Albert Museum video ‘Garnitures: Vase Sets from National Trust Houses‘, which examines rare surviving examples of vase sets and ceramic ornaments from National Trust houses being displayed on furniture and in period rooms at the V&A.
I was excited to see that the special inaugural issue of the Journal of Romanticism, on Romanticism and mysticism, is now available for purchase.
Finally, I saw a reminder this week that all of the University of Cambridge Things sessions are available as podcasts online – I must catch up asap!
The following CFPs, conferences and CFAs also caught my attention this week:
CFP: Evidence of Power in the Ruler Portrait, 14th – 18th Centuries (1-2 Dec 17)
CFP: Material Histories of Time: Objects and Practices, 14th-18th centuries (La Chaux-de-Fonds, Musée international d’horlogerie, November 30 – December 1, 2017)
CFP: “Hawthorne and Things” MLA 2018
CONF: Dress and Diplomacy (Copenhagen, 22 Mar 17)
CFP: AAH Summer Symposium: Re/presenting the Body (Glasgow,
6-7 Jul 17)
CFP: Collections – Scholars – Interpretations (Tbilisi, 2-3
CONF: Graduate Student Symposium – History of 19th-Century Art (New York, 26 Mar 17)
CFP: Special issue of Southern Cultures: Southern Things (Material Culture)
CFA: The Pre-Raphaelites and Antiquity (Special Issue Open Cultural Studies)
CFA: On Uses of Black Camp (Special Issue Open Cultural Studies)
CFA: Materiality, Objects and Objecthood (Special Issue Open Cultural Studies)
Victorian hand calling card, private collection.
A slightly belated Week in Review post.
As I’ve noted before, Notches and the Age of Revolutions blogs are amongst my favourite academic blogs, and both present really interesting work in their respective fields. Of late, I particularly enjoyed Notches’ ‘Femme Histories Roundtable‘ series (parts I and II), as well as this amazing post on ‘Disembodied Desire‘, focusing on disembodied Victorian limbs, as seen in the above calling card.
In case you missed me excitedly sharing this on Twitter and Facebook, here’s a Hyperallergic article on Sotheby’s first-ever auction of erotic artworks. I was particularly enamoured with this incredible painted plywood table, a copy after those supposedly held in a secret erotic salon of Catherine the Great. For this and many other fascinating objects check out the auction catalogue.
I hugely enjoyed this article on the history of the colour red from The Paris Review, and was fascinated by this touching article on the epistolary correspondence of two men during the Second World War.
I was keen to watch this webinar on ‘Exploring the Africana Historic Postcard Collection‘, which discusses the African Section of the Library of Congress’ African and Middle Eastern Division’s collection of more than 2000 historical photographic postcards. The collection is an important visual record of Africa and its people during the historically intensive years of European colonialism from 1895 to 1960.
I also really enjoyed Pat Thomson’s thought-provoking post on developing institutional writing cultures. Thomson writes compellingly about the need for rebuilding such collective practices, which is something that strongly rings true for me as a participant in an academic writing group. Thomson’s post was written a few days before my fellow writing-group attendee Lucie Whitmore wrote a post on our writing group for the SGSAH Blog, and they had a lovely synchronicity in my mind. I’m also going to write an update post on my own progress with the writing group at some point soon, so watch this space.
Publications wise, the table of contents for the first issue of the Journal for Art Market Studies (Vol 1, No 1 (2017)), also caught my attention this week, as did this call for book proposals on Gender and Culture in the Romantic Era. I was also really excited to see that Joanna Cohen’s book Luxurious Citizens: The Politics of Consumption in Nineteenth-Century America has now been published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. I’m sure this book will become an essential text for me as I expand my research to look at nineteenth-century American material culture.
CFP: Consuming Gender, Assuming Gender one-day symposium (14 July 2017, Cardiff University)
CFP: Decor and Architecture (Lausanne, 16-17 Nov 17)
CFP: French and English Rivalries in Dress and Textiles 1700-1914 (Paris, October 13-14, 2017)
CFP: “Emotions, Death and Dying” -PJHS (Winter 2017)
CFP: Queering the Transpacific: Asian American, American and Asian Queer Studies (March 31, 2017)
Finally, I noted with interest that there a number of vacancies on the Design History Society’s Board of Trustees, applications are due by mid-March.
John Richard Coke Smyth, Elizabeth, Lady Eastlake. Watercolour
4 3/4 in. x 4 1/4 in. (121 mm x 108 mm), National Portrait Gallery, London.
First up, the conference programme for the Writing Art: Women Writers as Art Critics in the Long Eighteenth Century conference. The conference intersects with a number of my projects, firstly an article I’m currently writing on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women travel writers and the narratives they tell through objects, and secondly, #WaysofSheing, a twitter-based project that aims to highlight and celebrate the contributions of female art historians. The conference features presentations on Elizabeth, Lady Eastlake (pictured above), Germaine de Staël, and the travel writer Maria Graham.
I enjoyed Sarah Read’s article ‘‘Gushing Out Blood’: Defloration and Menstruation in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure‘, from a recent edition of the Journal of Medical Humanities. In the article Read explores how Cleland ‘repeatedly depicts and eroticises the act of defloration’ in his erotic 1740s novel Fanny Hill.
Deborah Cohen’s The Atlantic article ‘Before Straight and Gay: The discreet, disorienting passions of the Victorian era‘, which begins with a microcosmic examination of the queer histories of the Benson family, is a fascinating read.
I was fascinated by this BBC News video, on the forgotten Victorian botanical painter Marianne North.
I also really enjoyed this revealing interview with April Haynes, author of Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America in a recent post on the Notches blog.
As ever, the Public Domain Review has been a wonderful source of articles and objects. I particularly enjoyed this recent essay by Yvonne Seale on nineteenth-century genealogy.
The following CFPs and conferences also caught my attention:
CONF: Women, Authorship, and Identity in the Long Eighteenth Century: New Methodologies (June 17, 2017)
CFP: Anonymity Unmasked: Identity, Agency, Responsibility (September 13-15, 2017)
CFP: Death and the Maiden (July 21-24, 2017)
CFP: Romanticism and Popular Culture (November 3-5, 2017)
I was thrilled to find out that I’ll be presenting my paper ‘A literary inheritance: Romantic family histories and textual afterlives in the commonplace books of Ellen Warter’ at next year’s Sibylline Leaves: Chaos and Compilation in the Romantic Period conference. This exciting conference brings together a number of fascinating approaches to Romantic cultural and material practices, and focuses on ‘the composition, publication and reception of romantic poetry in relation to a diverse range of collections and composite texts: miscellanies, anthologies and beauties, multi-volume or serialised fiction, magazines and newspapers, annuals and albums, common-place books and notebooks, catalogues and guidebooks, encyclopaedias and dictionaries.’ My abstract for the conference is included below.
A literary inheritance: Romantic family histories and textual afterlives in the commonplace books of Ellen Warter, Freya Gowrley (University of Edinburgh)
This paper will focus on two commonplace books made c.1885 by Ellen Warter, the granddaughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey, now held at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh. Though at first glance the volumes denote Warter’s participation in the rather usual Victorian practice of album production, sustained attention to the books and their compiled contents suggests their deeper significance for studies of nineteenth-century literary culture. More than the sum of their parts, Warter’s commonplace books are not only a collection of individual details and textual clippings, but also evoke the broader contexts of authorship, celebrity, and collaboration.
Warter’s commonplace books are quite unlike ‘conventional’ examples of the genre, which traditionally compile excerpted texts from a broad array of writers on a variety of topics. Instead, Warter devoted over 300 pages of her volumes to the lives and literature of the Brontë family, who were the objects of her sustained estimation, affection, and documentation. This specific emphasis upon the Brontës relates Warter’s albums to a specific type of album-making: namely, the production of volumes dedicated to literary celebrities, a practice enacted throughout the nineteenth century. Beyond this fascination with the Brontës however, the practice of commonplacing was firmly intertwined with Warter’s own family history. As the granddaughter of Robert Southey, she was part of a family whose own commonplacing and album-making spanned several generations. Warter’s grandfather, aunts, mother, and father all made, or contributed to the production of, composite volumes, a literary inheritance that places Warter’s own productions within a longer history and set of material practices. Crucially, such practices were also enacted within the broader Romantic circle, with Southey contributing to the volumes of his friends’ daughters, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Caroline Bowles, Charles Lamb, and Edward Quillinan reciprocally adding poems to the albums of Edith Southey, Warter’s mother. For Warter then, commonplacing was not only an educative practice, but an inherently social one, with her compilation of ‘Brontëana’ consistent with the collective practices of her own extended literary family.
Employing the framework of the object biography, the paper will consider Warter’s commonplace books in terms of literary assemblage, tracing the volumes’ constitutive elements as they passed from one literary form into the next. At the same time, the paper will demonstrate how the books were inherently biographical objects, redolent with potent familial association, both of Warter’s own family, and that of the Brontës. The paper will accordingly situate Warter’s commonplace books in relation to both contemporary examples of ‘Brontëana’ and the broader album production of the Southey family and social circle. In so doing, it will highlight the importance of composite works to collective Romantic literary production, as well as their enduring legacy in the late-nineteenth century, thereby troubling traditional divisions between the Romantic and Victorian literary traditions, and demonstrating the disruptive nature of periodization.