- Paraphernalia!: Victorian Objects ed. by Helen Kingstone and Kate Lister
Paraphernalia!: Victorian Objects is a highly compelling collection of thirteen essays responding to the emergence of thing theory and a general resurgent interest in Victorian material culture. Editors Helen Kingstone and Kate Lister have organized these essays in five crucial areas of concern: collecting, defining class in the home, objects becoming things, objects to texts, and objects in circulation through print culture. These loose organizational categories hint at a remarkably broad, welcoming approach to material culture studies that invites readers to consider the everyday uses and contexts of minor objects. Indeed, Kingstone and Lister note in their introduction that "paraphernalia carries implications of the miscellaneous; of being an auxiliary to a greater part [. . .] neither valuable enough for museums nor symbolic enough for purely literary study" (1). Thus, the objects under review in this collection—paper valentines, curl-papers, shelves, plaster of Paris images, taxidermized animals, and more—are what one might associate with this definition of paraphernalia, typically fragile and fleeting, a mere remnant of the Victorian age. In scrutinizing these objects and their original contexts, the contributors to this collection (historians, archaeologists, art historians, and literary scholars) strive to understand these understudied objects and humanize the Victorians who used them. [End Page 757]
Kingstone and Lister ground their critical approach by briefly analyzing Bill Brown's work on thing theory, John Plotz's slippery, unclassifiable values in Portable Property (2008), Elaine Freedgood's metonymic reading approach in The Ideas in Things (2006), and other more recent texts focused on Victorian material culture studies. With such an array to choose from, the editors have given their contributors wide scope to explore the relationship between material and culture. One of the strongest and most welcome results of this generous approach is that increased attention is paid to the objects owned by both middle-class and working-class Victorians.
Part one offers a richly diverse introduction to the ways that Victorians shopped for, displayed, and used objects. Rohan McWilliam's survey of London's West End bazaars immerses the reader in the history of these primarily female-oriented spaces, contextualizing the different shopping experiences possible at the Soho Bazaar, the Pantheon, and the Lowther Bazaar. A lively discussion of the purposes of each bazaar, its staff, and famous visitors, coupled with lists of objects for sale, enables McWilliam to amply demonstrate what visiting such a space must have been like for Victorian shoppers. While the essay provides significant insight into the evolution of shopping as a (generally) safe and social process, it should be noted that this chapter focuses on the physical space holding the object (the bazaar) rather than the object itself (items available for purchase). Indeed, several essays in Paraphernalia! highlight space over more traditional object studies, including Anne Anderson's highly useful study of the étagère and Silvia Granata's insightful work on home aquariums. Overall, this volume's exploration of the spaces devoted to objects offers an intriguing avenue of approach for scholars of material culture studies.
The other two essays in part one, Anderson's study of the étagère and Thad Logan's "Rossetti's Things," are nicely paired with each other. Anderson offers a meaty survey of the global influences on the British étagère and how home collectors utilized their own étagères to tastefully display their collections. Anderson's treatment of the étagères of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti's, offers an illuminating reminder of how the organization of a collection was highly prized as a signifier of personal taste. Next, Logan's essay uses auction catalogs and correspondence alongside close readings of paintings to highlight Rossetti's taste, awareness of his own personal property, and use of personal objects in his art. "Rossetti's Things" underscores the important connection between the individual collector and the collection, one that may be missed by outsiders when viewing such seemingly disparate objects as those held by Rossetti.