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Museum Trouble

Edwardian Fiction and the Emergence of Modernism

Ruth Hoberman

Publication Year: 2011

By 1901, the public museum was firmly established as an important national institution in British life. Its very centrality led to its involvement in a wide range of debates about art, knowledge, national identity, and individual agency. Ruth Hoberman argues that these debates concerned writers as well. Museum Trouble focuses on fiction written between 1890 and 1914 and the ways in which it engaged the issues dramatized by and within the museum.

Those issues were many. Art critics argued about what kind of art to buy on behalf of the nation, how to display it, and whether salaried professionals or aristocratic amateurs should be in charge. Museum administrators argued about the best way to exhibit scientific and cultural artifacts to educate the masses while serving the needs of researchers. And novelists had their own concerns about an increasingly commercialized literary marketplace, the nature of aesthetic response, the impact of evolution and scientific materialism, and the relation of the individual to Britain’s national and imperial identity.

In placing the many crucial museum scenes of Edwardian fiction in the context of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century cultural discourse, Museum Trouble shows how this turn-of-the-century literature anticipated many of the concerns of the modernist writers who followed.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. 1-26

On Wednesday, February 24, 1909, a man and a woman were seen in excited conversation in the Arctic Room of the National Portrait Gallery, apparently arguing over the quality of a painting. Then the man, according to the account in the Times, ‘‘drew a revolver from his pocket and, placing the muzzle close to the woman’s head, fired. She fell to the floor and the man, after but a moment’s hesitation, turned the revolver upon himself.’’ He died...

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1. Aesthetic Value in Flux

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pp. 27-51

In January 1894, a serial began appearing in Chambers Journal entitled, At Market Value.1 Written by Grant Allen, the novel told of an aristocrat, Lord Axminster, who goes to work as a sailor, determined to be defined by his ‘‘market value’’—the income and status he can gain by selling his labor on the open market—rather than by his birth. As a sailor, he moves commodities from place to place, fulfilling people’s needs as defined by the...

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2. The Mind behind the Museum: Constructing the Art Professional

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pp. 52-77

Throughout May 1909, those interested in art were obsessed with a single question: Could Holbein’s portrait Princess Christina, Duchess of Milan be saved for the nation? A May 1 article in the Times announced that the Duke of Norfolk had sold the painting to P. and D. Colnaghi and Company for somewhere around 60,000 pounds. Painted in 1538 to allow Henry VIII a look at Princess Christina as a possible spouse, the painting seemed to...

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3. Museum Gothic: Objects That ''Tell''

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pp. 78-108

At the end of The Outcry, crowds mill around the painting that Lord Theign has donated to the National Gallery, assured by the press and by professionals that this is a painting worth looking at. The painting, just as Hugh Crimble had hoped, ‘‘tells,’’ a word that grants it a strangely human ability to act and even articulate. ‘‘Artistic production is imaginative utterance; appreciation its understanding,’’ writes Benjamin Ives Gilman in his 1909 ‘‘Aims...

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4. Getting It Wrong: Museumgoers and Their Bodies

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pp. 109-133

In the wake of the 1896 parliamentary bill permitting public museums and galleries to open on Sunday afternoon, a delighted Mark H. Judge, honorary secretary of the Sunday Society, sent attendance records to various journals. The figures for August 22, 1897...

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5. The British Museum and the Problem of Knowledge

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pp. 134-164

‘‘To the English-speaking world,’’ James Barr writes in 1902, ‘‘ ‘The Museum’ means one Museum, and that is the British.’’1 This was particularly true at the start of the twentieth century, when the British Museum administered not only the building on Great Russell Street but also the Natural History Museum on Cromwell Road in South Kensington. As E. V. Lucas writes in A Wanderer in London, ‘‘The British Museum is the history of the...

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6. Museum Dreams

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pp. 165-190

‘‘The history of Modernism,’’ according to James Putnam, ‘‘is strewn with the ruins of the museum.’’1 In fact, anti-museum sentiment goes back to the very origins of the public museum, in the late eighteenth century.2 But the fiercest anti-museal sentiment has generally been associated with the efforts of post-Victorian artists and writers to define themselves against nineteenth-century conventionality, against the pressures of past models at...


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pp. 191-210


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pp. 211-226


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pp. 227-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780813931364
E-ISBN-10: 0813931363
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813931265
Print-ISBN-10: 0813931266

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 13 halftones
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 757509376
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Museum Trouble

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Museums -- Social aspects -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Museums in literature.
  • English fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • English fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Great Britain.
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