Curious Objects and Victorian Collectors: Men, Markets, Museums
Allsop, Jessica Lauren
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I wish to place an embargo for the standard time of 18 months on the thesis because I wish to publish material that is substantially drawn from it.
This thesis examines the portrayal of gentleman collectors in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century literature, arguing that they often find themselves challenged and destabilised by their collections. The collecting depicted contrasts revealingly with the Enlightenment practices of classification, taxonomy, and commodification, associated with the growth of both the public museum and the market economy. The dominance of such practices was bound up with the way they promoted subject-object relations that defined and empowered masculine identity. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer note that “[i]n the most general sense of progressive thought, the Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty” (3). That being so, this study explores how the drive to classify and commodify the material world found oppositional, fictional form in gothicly inflected texts depicting a fascinating but frightening world of unknowable, alien objects and abject, emasculated subjects. The study draws upon Fred Botting’s contention that gothic extremes are a reaction to the “framework” of “reductive and normalising limits of bourgeois morality and modes of production” (89). Examining novels and short stories by Richard Marsh, M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Vernon Lee, George Gissing, Wilkie Collins, Bram Stoker, Mary Cholmondeley, and Mary Ward, the thesis shows how gothicised instances of unproductive-masochism, pathological collecting, thwarted professionals, and emasculated heirs broke down the “framework” within which men and material culture were understood to interact productively and safely. Individual chapters dealing respectively with acquisition, possession, dissemination and inheritance, respond to the recent “material turn” in the humanities, bringing together literary criticism and historically grounded scholarship to reveal the collector and the collection as the locus 3 for concerns with masculinity and materiality that preoccupied a turn-of-the-century mindset.
University of Exeter Bursary
PhD in English