In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

9 Preface Ela in e Fr eed g o od • In The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel, I proposed that the object world of the novel is a vast potential catalogue of culturally forgotten , but not completely lost, meaning.We can recover partial histories from actual and represented things; we can then reimagine their social relations, their biographies, a part of their times. This process is highly imperfect; it does not restore our losses, but the object world, in its stolidity and, often, in its apparent opacity, waits for more interpretation—it remains available for more research, more study. The objects around us, or the objects we meet routinely in our scholarship , often seem all too obvious or all too self-explanatory.We rely on certain meanings, and these meanings move us along metonymically: through fiction, but through lots of other kinds of texts as well. Clothing and furniture, details and decorations, food and drink: we make ready associations of social class, taste, religious affiliation, characterological stability, and sanity, based on what characters wear and eat and put on display in their parlours. An articulated wooden leg was middle-class; a peg leg, on the other hand, a certain marker of poverty: amputations were performed according to the social class of the patient and which prosthesis she would be able to afford, we learn from Vanessa Warne.“The metaphoric power of artificial limbs is such that imaginative engagements with them threaten to overwhelm the material realities of disability,” she writes (32).This case vividly suggests the extent to which the meanings we give to things may be all too reflexive and routine. The object world, when it is carefully studied, offers an intermediate space between remembering and forgetting: a place of storage in which those meanings , connections, social relations, conflicts, and secrets that have been forgotten , set aside, or stowed away can be retrieved, however partially. This kind of storage, as Robert Pogue Harrison has argued, occurs outside of human memory, in all kinds of cultural “places”:“Our institutions, laws, landscapes, cities, statues, scriptures, houses, books, ideologies—these are among the many places in its secular topography where the human mind stores both the past and future of what it retains” (83–84).The modern way of grieving, Julie Rugg’s essay on the urban cemetery suggests, may in part be conditioned by the way such places teach us to remember the dead. Memories are not only part of victorian review • Volume 34 Number 1 10 cemeteries, they are activated and formed by the very shapes and intentions of those institutions:“Substantial entrance gates declared purpose and imposed gravitas, and substantial boundary walls or railings promised protection and privacy. Undulations in the ground offered vistas…,” Rugg explains (46).We focus, we are serious, we stare off into the distance… Talia Schaffer retrieves a hidden industrial aesthetic in the repetitive, massproduced patterns of Berlin woolwork. The ability to imitate a power loom was highly valued by women crafters in theVictorian period: copying perfectly, cheaply, and efficiently was a virtue that is now obscure to us, given our valuing of individuality in handmade things. Michael Tavel Clarke’s discussion of the andrometer and its relationship to our now-naturalized assumptions about the value of size—that bigger is better—opens up a genealogy of measuring of which we maintain the remnants, but which looks very different when we attach it to the making of modern racism.The andrometer used to prove “that stature was a token of racial progress, and that Anglo-Saxons topped the racial-stature hierarchy” (26). In the lively verbs of Katharine Anderson in her article on coral jewellery, objects “push and force” rather than “epitomize or display” (49).We should not expect objects to exemplify our contentions passively: they may act as evidence for arguments that sprout up around, and seriously complicate, the ones we are trying to make. Her essay suggests the way that investigating an apparently self-explanatory object—jewellery made of coral—opens a view of the geological and biological unconscious of the mid-Victorian period: coral colonizes, it is both an animal and a plant, it has an air of...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 9-12
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.