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13 Album Sa m a n th a M atthews • In The Woman inWhite (1860), the lawyer Gilmore describes an interview with his client, Laura Fairlie, shortly before her forced marriage to Sir Percival Glyde. He notices as they talk that she toys with an album containing“a small water-colour landscape” (Collins 143).At the mention of Glyde’s name, Laura “took her hand off the little album as suddenly as if it had turned hot and burnt her” (143). The reader knows, as Gilmore does not, that the landscape was painted by Walter Hartright, and that the book signifies her suppressed love for the drawing master. Laura’s handling of the album narrates her unspeakable emotional struggle: when her fingers“beat gently on the margin of the drawing, as if her memory had set them going mechanically with the remembrance of a favourite tune” (145), she is recalling musical evenings with Hartright; but when“the hand on the album resigned its hold, trembled a little, and moved the book away” (145), Laura is resigned to her fate and bursts into tears. An album, broadly defined, is a blank book that contains, protects, and orders a unique collection of personally significant texts or objects, such as prints, letters, stamps, photographs, or printed “scraps.” My focus here is a specific genre derived from the album amicorum or “album of friends,” which contains personal tributes—autographs, poems, quotations, drawings, souvenirs —that the book’s usually female owner solicited from family, friends, and occasionally celebrities. The album was an essential item of feminine paraphernalia; in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The Mayflower (1843), suitor Joseph Adams enters a room hoping to find his romantic object, but finds instead a still life of objects signifying her: There was a vase of flowers on the table, two or three books of poetry, and a little fairy work-basket … there was a small writingdesk , and last, not least, in a lady’s collection, an album, with leaves of every colour of the rainbow, containing inscriptions, in sundry strong masculine hands,“To Susan.” (49–50) To Adams’s jealous eye, Susan’s album is primarily a record of his rivals, but albums were not simply instruments of courtship.They were vessels of memory and autobiography,collections of tokens of diverse people and places that added up to more than the sum of their parts. Read as an example of the souvenir theorized by Susan Stewart in On Longing, the album typifies the urgent “search for authentic experience and … for the authentic object” within an exchange economy, where “as experience is increasingly mediated and abstracted, the lived relation of the body to the phenomenological world is replaced by a nostalgic myth of contact and presence” (133). The album’s significance for victorian review • Volume 34 Number 1 14 its owner lies in its preservation of signatures or autographic texts—unique traces of identity mediated by the hand. Derrida has accounted for the aura of signature, which “implies the actual or empirical nonpresence of the signer,” by its capacity also to mark and retain the signer “having-been-present” and therefore continuing to be present “in the transcendental form of nowness (maintenance)” (107). Albums also invoke the signer’s absent presence and body more literally—by synecdoche,with locks of hair or fragments of ribbon or lace; by representation,with painted portraits and later carte-de-visite photographs;and less directly,by dried flowers,leaves,or other tokens associated with significant occasions.While annotations provide reminders of provenance and assurances of authenticity, the meaningfulness of such souvenirs depends on personal or family associations. In the early twentieth century, albums that had become detached from their originating contexts often suffered mutilation for the sake of valuable literary manuscripts or were discarded as crumbling records of that embarrassing Victorian fusion of sentimental idealism and materialism. By providing an arena for human interaction at one remove, the album functions both as an extension of the owner’s body, on which contributors inscribe their tributes, and a substitute for the physical presence of absent friends and family. Laura Fairlie’s“little album” is the repository for her secret emotional life, yet her gestural...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 13-17
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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