- The Paper Museum
This page of a souvenir album, created by an anonymous Victorian in the mid-nineteenth century, represents a visit to “the home of Charlotte Brontë,” as reads the caption on the oval scrap, showing the parsonage in Haworth (fig. 1). The traveller pasted a snippet with the signature of Patrick Brontë, still living here at the time, underneath, and arranged two [End Page 25] leaves—described in pencil as “ivy leaves from the rectory, Haworth, 1859”—along the bottom (Anonymous souvenir album). Mostly a travel album, the volume commemorates the places the compiler visited, and, as a whole, attempts to capture and keep experience.1 What Geoffrey Batchen would call a “hybrid object,” the book multiplies layers of representation, using varied means of grasping time and place (48). The visual—the published sketch, possibly from a souvenir pamphlet or stationery—somehow didn’t suffice to store or evoke engagement, to prove that the traveller had been there, seen that, met him, touched this. She needed to include the “hand” (with the signature a metonym for the body) of the local celebrity (himself metonymic of Charlotte Brontë, now dead and out of reach). The plants that grew there express the place itself. Here in this book she displays the living hours; she curates a memory shrine.
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Many Victorian albums performed as personal museums. They sat in the parlour, ready to be paged through with visitors, often accompanied by a verbal narrative.2 Autograph or friendship albums, for instance, contained the drawings, sayings, and copied quotations of one’s friends and attested not only to a social group but also to time and place: the contributor added the date and where she lived or happened to be just then.3 Compilers of amateur [End Page 26] botanical albums often pencilled the date and location of the specimen gathering, and sometimes with whom.4 Albums with “scraps” had pasted to their leaves printed menus for special dinners, theatre programs, lecture flyers, and the like—means of tracing one’s movement through space and hours.5 Like proper museums, then, these volumes were displayed to others and represented history—an autobiography in objects—with a chronology and attention to the local, like wall texts. Differently from a case, box, cabinet, vitrine, or museum, the album allowed one to assemble artifacts not only on the face of a sheet but also as part of the paged-through sequence of a volume. The page itself became part of the artifact, especially when the maker embroidered onto a leaf or used stitches to attach paper objects to it, something like a house museum, where every object, room, wall, and the space itself are meant to evoke the famous inhabitant and the body once there.6 Victorian parlours and other domestic interiors often exhibited crafted or found objects—taxidermy, wax flowers, needlepoint—under or behind glass (Logan). The album was a space holding things within the parlour with its artifacts, which was itself a room opening out to other domestic chambers. Similarly, a museum involves spaces within spaces. For instance, the British Museum contains a room with a jewelled reliquary that protects what is reputed to be a sliver of the True Cross. Comparable to this fragment of wood, its rich encasement, the room where it resides, and the larger space of the museum building, the album in the Victorian parlour collected between its boards lacy valentines, moss, feathers, and hair, creating a tactile heart within the parlour, itself within the larger space of the house.7
Albums shared other qualities with museums, serving as pointers to what museum-goers had lost as the nineteenth century advanced. The original British museums were private collections of the wealthy, usually amassed in grand country houses. In the eighteenth century, most museums still preserved features of the personal hoards from which they grew, and visitors were encouraged to touch the items displayed (Classen 275–77). In 1786, for instance, a woman at the British Museum slipped her hand into an ancient...