Evocative objects: a reading of resonant things and material encounters in Victorian writers’ houses/museums
Hunter, Aislinn Paige
This thesis is a study of resonant things in Victorian writers’ houses/museums – a reading of those material objects that seem especially fit to presence the writer to whom they once belonged. Through the study of a selection of autographic objects in the houses/museums of Victorian writers, this thesis considers the following questions: What is resonance? How do things presence the absent individual with whom they are associated? Why do some categories of things – objects seemingly ‘imbued with a lasting sediment of their owners’ (Pascoe 3) – seem especially fit for the task of presencing, and how have we described or understood this phenomenon through narrative? Through a reading of things, categories of things, images, novels, life writing, cultural and critical theory and the house/museum space, this thesis will examine the relationship between presencing things, material metonymy, and remembrance. It will suggest that certain categories of things have qualities that allow them to serve as remembrancers, standing-in-for and eliciting a sense of the absent individual with whom they were once connected. Chapter one lays the ground for this reading of resonant things by contextualizing writers’ houses/museums as sites of literary pilgrimage and introducing and defining some of the key concepts and terms employed in this study such as autographic object, authenticity, contiguity and resonance. Chapter two moves inside the writer’s house/museum in order to demonstrate how things can ‘world’ via a reading of Marion Harland’s late nineteenth-century description of a tour of the Carlyle’s House alongside Martin Heidegger’s concept of worlding. Chapters three, four, five, and six look at different types of museum things, beginning with hair – the object most closely associated with the writer’s body – and then moving on to clothing, writerly tools such as desks and chairs, and ending with handwriting. Through assessing the particular qualities of each categorical thing alongside the concepts we meet these things with and the way that encounters with these things have been described in a variety of narratives, a number of the dynamics contributing to affective encounters with writerly things are uncovered. These dynamics or factors include: autographic ascription, authenticity, contiguity, metonymical fitness, equipmentality, and stasis/conspicuousness. Ultimately this thesis argues that certain things have a particular fitness for the task of evoking or presencing the absent individual for whom they stand, and that in doing so everyday objects undergo a metamorphosis: ceasing to be everyday tools fit for a specific task (for wearing, for sitting, for writing with) and becoming instead tools for remembrance – evocative things that presence both the absent individual with whom they are associated and the world they inhabited in their lifetime.