19th Century Valentines

"Wilt Thou Be Mine?" Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

“Wilt Thou Be Mine?” Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

Much of today’s Valentine’s Day expectations were created by the Victorians. While sending and receiving Valentines had been fairly commonplace before the 19thcCentury, it was the Industrial Revolution’s advances in paper making and printing which greatly reduced the cost of the traditional, small, and elaborate Valentines. Machine made paper and new printing processes and techniques allowing for combined colors (chromolithography), metallic inks, and die-cutting worked together to decrease the price of Valentines. Victorian Valentines could be purchased ready-made or senders could create original assemblages of materials available from a stationer’s shop. These items included paper lace, mirrors, bows, ribbons, seeds, sachets, gold and silver foil appliques, silk flowers, die-cut mottos or designs, and other items. Additionally, postal pricing reform recommended by Rowland Hill in 1837 and fully adopted in Britain in 1840 with the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post incentivized mass production of Valentines.

"A loving heart is a priceless treasure" Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

“A loving heart is a priceless treasure” Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

The growth of Valentine’s Day’s commercialization is clearly demonstrated in the increased sending of Valentines as tracked by the British Post Office. Its records indicate that up to 60,000 Valentines were sent in England in 1836. After the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post, 400,000 Valentines were posted throughout England in 1841. The numbers continued to climb, with 542,000 Valentines mailed within London in 1865 and nearly double that amount were sent into London from the surrounding countryside. These numbers led to Victorian postmen receiving a special allowance for refreshments to help them keep up their energy in the 2-3 days leading up to February 14th.

"Valentine's Day; 'Oh! Here's The Postman!'", The Illustrated London News, February 10th, 1872. From the British Library's Collections, Copyright British Newspaper Archive.

“Valentine’s Day; ‘Oh! Here’s The Postman!'”, The Illustrated London News, February 10th, 1872. From the British Library’s Collections, Copyright British Newspaper Archive.

If you are lamenting Valentine’s Day as a commercial racket, blame the Victorians. If you are looking forward to sharing tokens of affection with friends and loved ones, thank the Victorians. Either way here are some Victorian Valentines that you can download and print to share with those in your life expecting or deserving a Valentine’s Day expression of love:

A four page PDF with scans of Victorian Valentines from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Valentines Collection. Two pages are a classic layout of 9 cards to print and cut out. One page has 4 horizontal designs with a back and front that can be printed, cut, and folded in-half as a card. One page has two vertical designs with a back and front that can be printed, cut, and folded in-half as a card.

If you would prefer individual pages as a JPG file: classic layout page 1, classic layout page 2, horizontal designs, and vertical designs.

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Fall 2018 Instruction Sessions in the ABL

In Fall 2018, the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) was privileged to either host or contribute materials to 16 instruction sessions. There was one class from each of the following departments: music, art, German, and a University 1000 course. The rest of our instruction sessions were evenly divided between English and history, with each department having 6 class visits.

ABL's Director, Jennifer Borderud, gives University 1000 students a tour of the ABL.

ABL’s Director, Jennifer Borderud, gives University 1000 students a tour of the ABL.

Two classes kicked off their semesters with tours of the ABL in August. Baylor’s Chamber Singers, who practice in the ABL’s McLean Foyer of Meditation twice a week, took a tour of the library to learn the history of the building and to view materials from the library’s Browning Music Collection. A University 1000 came for a tour as well, so they could learn why Baylor is home to one of the most beautiful academic libraries in the United States and discover some of the rich resources that can be found here.

History 1307 students analyze primary sources.

History 1307 students analyze primary sources.

In September, our first section of English 2301: British Literature came twice. The first visit was to compare and contrast our collection of 18th-century editions of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the second was to compare and contrast publications of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from 1600 to the present. The Central Libraries Special Collections collaborated with us and provided half of the Chaucer texts. Also, in September, we carried a selection of 19th-century abolitionist literature to Moody Library’s Active Learning Lab (Moody 104) for a History 1307: World History since 1500 class’s instruction session. The Texas Collection, the Baylor Libraries Book Arts Collection, and the Central Libraries Special Collections all contributed resources to an examination of written records of slavery in the United States.

Our ABL Teaching Fellows, past and present, chose to bring their courses to the library during October. The month started with 2017 Teaching Fellow Paul Gutacker bringing his 8:00 a.m. History 2365: History of the U.S. to 1877 class to the library to analyze primary sources relating to 19th-century reform movements. Midway through the week, 2018 Teaching Fellow Joel Iliff brought his History 2365: History of the U.S. to 1877 class to analyze primary sources relevant to the themes he was covering. While the history classes overlapped in their topics and themes, each instructor selected very different sets of resources. At the end of the month, our second Teaching Fellow for 2018, Dr. Ginger Hanchey, brought her three sections of English 2301: British Literature to the ABL for a tour of the building one day, and then brought them back a second day for the opportunity to survey items from the collections which corresponded to the main themes of her course.

ABL resources waiting to be opened by students.

ABL resources waiting to be opened by students.

In between the Teaching Fellows instruction sessions at the beginning and end of October, additional English faculty brought their courses to the ABL. English 5304: Bibliography and Research Methods came to the ABL to learn how to find archival and rare book collections using digital resources and then to explore the variety of resources which are found in special collections. And another English 2301: British Literature class visited the ABL for a short tour of the building and rare materials display of manuscripts relating to the authors they were reading.

November saw the return of 2017’s Teaching Fellow for one last session, and while we are happy to open the library early for instruction sessions (or stay late on occasion) those mornings do require an extra cup of caffeine. In the middle of the month, Art 3356: 19th-Century European Art came for a day to study 19th-century printed illustration styles and techniques. And our final instruction session of the semester involved escorting German 4320: Special Topics in German through the ABL as an exemplar of what constitutes beauty and how such determinations are made.

We at the Armstrong Browning Library are always pleased when faculty members request to bring their classes to the building for tours or instruction sessions utilizing the collections. We are looking forward to returning classes and those coming for the very first time in Spring 2019. For more information about class visits, contact ABL Curator Laura French.

A Curator at California Rare Book School

By Laura French, Curator, Armstrong Browning Library

What is Rare Book School?

Rare book school is a professional (or personal) development opportunity for librarians, curators, academics, antiquarian book sellers, and book collectors to complete an intensive, one-week study of a discrete topic within bibliography and the history of the book. Terry Belanger founded the original Rare Book School at Columbia University in 1983. It has since moved to the University of Virginia.

Attendance at Rare Book School has developed into a sort of rite of passage for librarians working in or interested in working with special collections. Special collections are the research materials that libraries collect which are too valuable, rare, or fragile to leave the library. (The Armstrong Browning Library is made up almost entirely of special collections.) By their very nature of these materials requires additional training beyond what a librarian typically learns in their graduate program. The fastest way to learn the proper way to look after specific types of materials within special collections is to attend a course on that material type or custodianship issue at a rare book school.

Over time several similar institutes have developed. These include:

California Rare Book School

Texas A&M’s Book History Workshop

The Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminars

London Rare Book School

Ligatus Summer School

University of Otago’s Center for the Book’s Australasian Rare Book School

Institut d’Histoire du Livre

The Montefiascone Conservation Project’s Study Programme

What Class Did I Attend? & Why?

This past summer I attended California Rare Book School’s course “Better Teaching with Rare Materials”. The class was led by Michaela Ullmann, Exile Studies Librarian in Special Collections at the University of Southern California, and Robert Montoya, Assistant Professor and Director of the Doctoral Programs in the Department of Information and Library Science in the School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering at Indiana University, Bloomington. The course trains librarians and teaching faculty how to design instruction sessions utilizing special collections materials which will increase students’ primary source literacy.

This course provided me the opportunity to spend one full week focusing on instructional strategies prior to my first semester teaching with the Armstrong Browning Library’s collections. I wanted to attend this course, in part, because this past year the Society of American Archivists and the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Rare Books and Manuscripts Section jointly approved “Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy.” The course also allowed me time to increase my familiarity with the new guidelines prior to the start of the Fall 2018 semester.

What Did We Do?

The five days were broken up into: direct instruction, discussions, and fieldtrips to a variety of special collections and cultural heritage institutions within driving distance of UCLA. The class covered topics such as: setting up an instruction program, special collections pedagogy, strategies for collaborating with teaching faculty, in class assignments and exhibit curation, digital instruction tools, digital scholarship tools, curriculum mapping, and assessment techniques. There were frequent discussions of the instructors, participants, and guest speakers’ successes and failures in each area. Participants were encouraged to envision how they would implement or adapt each of the topics covered for their institution.

The fieldtrips were a valuable component of the course. We visited Special Collections at UCLA, USC, and Occidental College and the Museum of Tolerance. It was so helpful to see the variety of institutions’ instruction space and to hear about the kinds of instruction that they are doing.

What Was the Result?

This course was a great way to prepare for the fall instruction sessions. I came away with plans to create materials which will describe the possible ways the Armstrong Browning Library’s collections can be used by faculty in their courses and new ways to promote instruction sessions to Baylor faculty.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Hair and Hairwork at the Armstrong Browning Library

By Heather Hind, PhD Candidate, Universities of Exeter and Bristol, United Kingdom

Heather Hind at the Armstrong Browning Library

I was delighted to find out earlier this year that I’d been awarded a one month fellowship with the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) to carry out research for a chapter of my PhD thesis on the Brownings. Even with my preliminary enquiries into the ABL’s collections, I did not anticipate just how fruitful my time here would be.

My thesis is a study of hairwork—the art of making decorative objects such as jewellery and embroidery out of human hair—in Victorian literature and culture. This topic tends to get rather polarised reactions: some are in disbelief that it was a common practice (the hashtag #HairyArchives on Twitter is testament to this), some are a bit grossed-out by idea of keeping hair clippings, while others show enthusiasm for something so curious and of its time. The latter, thankfully, was the reaction of the ABL staff who have all been incredibly helpful and supportive during my stay.

Robert Browning’s grandfather’s hair in an 1830s memorial brooch (H0500).

Robert Browning’s grandfather’s hair in an 1830s memorial brooch (H0500).

I should first explain that hairwork was not an invention of the Victorians. If you count locks of hair plaited and curled into reliquaries and rings, it dates back at least as far as medieval times (see Margaret Sleeman’s ‘Medieval Hair Tokens’, 1981). In the seventeenth century bracelets made of hair had a moment, as attested to by their romantic exchange in John Donne’s ‘The Relic’ and ‘The Funeral’ (1633) and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600), in which Egeus complains that Lysander has ‘stolen the impression of [Hermia’s] fantasy / With bracelets of thy hair’. The fashion for memento mori jewellery in the eighteenth century, which often meant incorporating a lock or woven background of hair into a brooch or ring, marks the beginning of the more familiar use of hair for memento mori and mourning purposes. Robert Browning’s grandfather’s hair brooch is a prime example of this. The seed pearls around the brooch were common elements in mourning jewellery, signifying teardrops, and the back of the brooch makes its memorial function clear: ‘Robert Browning Esqr. Obt. Decr. 11th 1833. At. 84’. The popularity of sentimental fiction such as The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774) played a part in shaping this period of hairwork, associated with romance and deep affection but tied, almost inevitably, to death and mourning. While these morbid associations persisted to some extent in the Victoria era, during the heyday of hairwork in the 1840s-60s it had far more to do with love, family, and friendships—with relationships with the living—than it did with anticipating or memorialising death. This is one of the key points that I make in my thesis and, with the aid of the ABL’s collections, one that can be demonstrated by looking at the place and prevalence of locks of hair and hairwork in the Brownings’ poetry, letters, and personal effects.

There is a lot of the Brownings’ hair to consider. There are forty-nine recorded articles of hair and hairwork connected with the Brownings listed across the The Browning Collections Catalogue and two related archives housed by the ABL, The Altham Archive and The Joseph Milsand Archive. Though the majority of these locks have found themselves stranded in libraries and museums all over the world (at least from Eton to Wellesley College), the ABL holds eighteen of these articles—and they are some of the more interesting pieces, too. Along with eleven plain or ‘unworked’ locks of hair, there are three locks coiled into lockets, three hair bracelets and a brooch. Of these, half are attributed to RB or EBB.

From top clockwise: Hair bracelet engraved ‘E B Barrett’ (H0474), hair bracelet of Mary Moulton-Barrett (G17), and hair bracelet of Henrietta Clutterbuck engraved “March 9th 1838” (G18).

From top clockwise: Hair bracelet engraved ‘E B Barrett’ (H0474), hair bracelet of Mary Moulton-Barrett (G17), and hair bracelet of Henrietta Clutterbuck engraved “March 9th 1838” (G18).

The three hair bracelets in the Altham Archive are the most elaborate pieces in the collection, though they are not unusual for the time they were made. The bracelet belonging to Mary Moulton-Barrett, EBB’s mother, another in memory of Henrietta Clutterbuck (a family friend from when the Barretts lived at Hope End), and the one of EBB’s hair are very similar in appearance. Each consists of a wide band of woven hair fitted with a flat clasp: a popular design in the 1820s and 30s and comparable to other early-nineteenth-century bracelets, such as one made of Anne Brontë’s hair in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth.

From top clockwise: A hairwork frame from William Martin’s Hair Worker’s Manual (1852), a hair bracelet of Anne Brontë’s hair (HAOBP: J14), and part of the frontispiece of Emilie Berrin’s Thorough Instructions for Women on the Production of All Possible Kinds of Hairbraids (1822).

From top clockwise: A hairwork frame from William Martin’s Hair Worker’s Manual (1852), a hair bracelet of Anne Brontë’s hair (HAOBP: J14), and part of the frontispiece of Emilie Berrin’s Thorough Instructions for Women on the Production of All Possible Kinds of Hairbraids (1822).

This style of hairwork would have been made on a frame or weighted across a cushion in order to plait the many strands of hair evenly and, while this set-up could have been achieved at home by the amateur, was more likely completed by a jeweller or professional hairworker. This transaction was, however, not without anxiety. There is mention in the Brownings’ letters of hair going missing while in the possession of jewellers. Part of a lock of EBB’s hair, requested in a letter by RB and the subject of her poem ‘I never gave a lock of hair away’ (Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1850), was placed in a ring bearing her nickname, ‘Ba’, and sent to a jeweller to be resized for RB’s little finger. When he received the ring back from the jeweller EBB’s hair was gone. She sent him another lock, RB reasoning that ‘it seems probable that there was no intentional mischief in that jeweller’s management of the ring—the divided gold must have been exposed to the fire,—heated thoroughly, perhaps,—and what became of the contents then!’ (15 December 1845; BC 11, 240-41).

Lock of hair cut when Robert Barrett Browning was nine days old (H0501), and lock of hair cut later in life, but undated (H0502).

Lock of hair cut when Robert Barrett Browning was nine days old (H0501), and lock of hair cut later in life, but undated (H0502).

Finely woven hairwork offered a way for friends and family to memorialise their relations and relationships in a wearable and touchable memento. Locks of hair, however, could be equally precious, treasured not for their intricate form but for the affections and memories they manifest. The two locks of Pen Browning’s hair demonstrate this most clearly, one cut when he was nine days old and another undated but, by judging its grisly appearance, cut in later life. The lock cut in Pen’s childhood is curled into the shape of a bow, or perhaps an infinity symbol, a golden token of youth and possibility. The other lock curls untidily round itself, its various shades of blonde and brown and grey marking the passing from youth to old age. EBB wrote fondly of Pen’s hair in her letters (which are fully searchable using the in-house database ABL Research Tools) and occasionally sent locks out to her friends, proud of but precious about his long golden ringlets. She writes to Joanna Hilary Bonham Carter, for instance, ‘I will send you in some niggardly way the ‘hairs’ you ask for—confessing myself a miser’ (25 May 1854; BC 20, 225-26). I am interested also in how hair is aligned in the Brownings’ poetry with gold and precious goods—be they a figure of spiritual wealth or worldly economic value—particularly in EBB’s ‘The soul’s rialto hath its merchandise’ (1850) and ‘Only a curl’ (1862), and RB’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ (1842) and ‘Gold Hair: A Story of Pornic’ (1862). The collections of the ABL have provided a rich source of material as I chart these uneasy intersections between hair and money, the gift of hair and its expected return, and hairwork and poetic work.

From left: Hair album of the Estes Family (Texas Collection), manuscript of EBB’s ‘Lines on the Portrait of the Widow of Riego’ and lock of the widow’s hair (H0508), replica of a locket worn by EBB containing RB’s hair (H0493), manuscript page of Leigh Hunt’s ‘To Robert Batty, M.D., on His Giving Me a Lock of Milton's Hair’ (ABL Victorian Collection), and a lock of EBB’s hair (H0479).

From left: Hair album of the Estes Family (Texas Collection), manuscript of EBB’s ‘Lines on the Portrait of the Widow of Riego’ and lock of the widow’s hair (H0508), replica of a locket worn by EBB containing RB’s hair (H0493), manuscript page of Leigh Hunt’s ‘To Robert Batty, M.D., on His Giving Me a Lock of Milton’s Hair’ (ABL Victorian Collection), and a lock of EBB’s hair (H0479).

There are many more curious hair tokens I would like to share from my research, just a sample being: a replica of EBB’s locket encircled by a serpent containing the hair of RB; a beautifully plaited and coiled lock of EBB’s hair; the long plaited lock of the widow of Riego which is tucked inside the manuscript of EBB’s poem on her portrait; a page of the manuscript of Leigh Hunt’s poem on Milton’s hair which begins ‘There seems a love in hair though it be dead’; and the hair album of the Estes family from The Texas Collection of the Carroll Library. Each of these unique artefacts offers a further step to understanding the vibrant and varied culture of hairwork in the nineteenth century.

As Dr Duc Dau noted in her blog post for the ABL last year, ‘For the tactile among us, there’s a certain thrill at the experience of touching these manuscripts and bits of paper’, but it’s this thrill that forms a key part of my project. Sometimes, physical proximity and touch can illuminate more about an artefact than reading about it can—you get a real sense of the scale, texture, opacity or translucency, incongruous lightness or heaviness, and of the fragility or sturdiness of an item that you simply cannot work out with even the best quality digital image. And it’s these precise qualities that need to be defined if we are to understand the affective power hairwork held for the Victorians. The embodied experience of handling and viewing and contemplating locks of hair—seeing the way they want to uncurl and escape from envelopes and regarding the light-reflecting litheness of woven hair bracelets even two hundred years on—makes sense of their lively and allusive presence in the poetry of the Brownings.

I would like to end by thanking all of the ABL staff for their incredible support and for helping me to find resources (and, of course, hair) for my research in places I would never have thought to look. And I would strongly encourage other graduate students in Victorian studies to look into the collections of the ABL—there is much more than just a few locks locked away in the archives.

Rhyme and Reform Symposium: An Instructor’s Perspective

By Meagan Anthony, English Ph.D. Candidate, Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

On October 4th and 5th, the Armstrong Browning Library co-hosted our first hybrid symposium, Rhyme and Reform: Victorian Working-Class Poets and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Cry of the Children”, along with the University of Strathclyde and the University of Manchester. This multi-site, digitally-networked symposium about Victorian portrayals of industrial labor and verse coincided with the 175th anniversary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Cry of the Children,” which protested the abuse of child workers in British mines and factories. Rhyme and Reform’s schedule of events included in-person and live-streamed presentations, on-site workshops featuring the digital editing tool COVE, and an exhibition. Below, Armstrong Browning Library’s Graduate Research Assistant, Meagan Anthony writes about her decision to bring her English course to the opening reception of Rhyme and Reform’s exhibit.

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As an instructor, I think linking classroom discussion with real world events is an important tool for students to transition classroom ideas into their everyday lives. This semester I am teaching the FAS (Freshman Academic Seminar) Protest Writing and Civil Disobedience.  We began looking at the protest writing of the American Independence Movement and will continue up to the #MeToo Movement and March for Our Lives.

Students from Meagan Anthony's English class interact with the Rhyme and Reform exhibit.

Students from Meagan Anthony’s English class interact with the Rhyme and Reform exhibit.

Coincidentally, the week Rhyme and Reform took place, my class was reading about the protest writing of the American tenement dwellers and factory workers. The symposium fit in with our discussion perfectly. Not only could the students see how other scholars presented work regarding protest literature, but they were able to see and experience that the issues with working and living conditions in 19th century America were not limited to America, or that century. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry also offered the students a new genre for discussion. Our active questions included: How does the genre of protest writing effect the message? What rhetorical techniques are unique to certain genres and which are shared by others? By what past text is this author influenced? How would readers have responded to this text at the time? How should we respond to it?

Meagan Anthony leads her class in a discussion of the Rhyme and Reform exhibit.

Meagan Anthony leads her class in a discussion of the Rhyme and Reform exhibit.

My class thoroughly enjoyed their experience at the ABL and noted that the few classmates who were unable to make class that day had truly missed out. Events like Rhyme and Reform help us to keep literature and historical writing relevant and living. Throughout the semester my class will engage with many instances of injustice and reform through historical texts and literature in order to come to the understanding that these issues are cyclical. We are not experiencing new forms of oppression or disenfranchisement; we are simply experiencing new waves of conflict. Looking back at former protest voices aids us by showing where we have come from and envisioning what our next steps should be.

Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes New Curator

Laura J. French, Associate Librarian and Curator, Armstrong Browning Library

We are pleased to welcome Laura J. French as associate librarian and curator of the Armstrong Browning Library. Laura joined the ABL in May, bringing with her significant experience in reference, instruction, and outreach. Before joining the ABL, she held positions as Special Collections and Digital Archives Librarian at California State University, Stanislaus; as Instruction and User Services Librarian, also at CSU, Stanislaus; and as Interim Librarian for Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts at the University of Maryland, College Park. Previously, Laura taught English and Social Sciences at the secondary level. Laura earned her BA in History with a minor in Literature from High Point University in North Carolina, and her MA in Medieval History from California State University, Sacramento. Laura completed all coursework toward an MA in Education with a concentration in Curriculum and Instruction and earned her MLS from the University of Maryland, College Park.

How did you become interested in librarianship?

I became interested in librarianship because of challenges I faced as a high school social science and English language arts teacher. I would search the internet for digital versions of primary sources that I could use in my classes. While I found many interesting digital collections, the content rarely aligned to content standards. If I could find digitized primary sources aligned to content standards, frequently the images were file sizes too small to create reproducible facsimiles and many could not be downloaded at all. So it was dissatisfaction with the then current state of many digital collections and a desire to help teachers interested in teaching with primary sources which prompted my interest in librarianship.

Describe your role at the Armstrong Browning Library and what interests you most about the position?

Dr. Sebastian Langdell's English 2301 course visited the Armstrong Browning Library in September to explore 18th Century printings of Shakespeare's play "The Tempest."

Laura French introduces students in Dr. Sebastian Langdell’s English 2301 course to the ABL’s 18th-century printings of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”

As a curator at the Armstrong Browning Library I provide access to and promote the use of the library’s nineteenth-century research materials. I offer research support to individuals with questions about Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and their circle. The part of my responsibilities which I find most engaging is the collaborative work I do with Baylor faculty designing instruction sessions utilizing the ABL’s resources to enhance student learning experiences. Attempting to increase awareness on campus, in the local community, and within scholarly circles of the ABL’s resources is the most creatively challenging aspect of my work.

Describe a project on which you are currently working and a project you hope to begin the near future?

Currently, I am working on an exhibit manual. This will be a tool for ABL employees and interns to offer guidance for individuals putting together an exhibit for the first time and reminders for those putting up their fiftieth. It will have some resources to help individuals curating an exhibit at the ABL keep track of the parts of an exhibit, locate supplies, and identify employees in other departments who have key roles in exhibit curation at Baylor Libraries.

Next, I will work on documentation for the ABL’s instruction program. I would like to be able to provide faculty with a description of the types of instruction that the ABL offers and ensure that all faculty are aware of their options when in comes to requesting instruction sessions utilizing the ABL’s research collections.

The Brownings’ Literary Network: Curator Interview

The Armstrong Browning Library & Museum’s current exhibit, “The Literary Network of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning” will be coming down on Friday, September 28th. But before it does, we asked Dr. Kristen Pond a few questions about her course on literary networks. We hope you enjoy reading Dr. Pond’s responses and take this final opportunity to drop by and see her students’ hard work while it is still on display.

Students set up artifacts for English 3351 exhibit project.

Students set up artifacts for English 3351 exhibit project.

Where did your interest in literary networks begin and how has it grown or changed?

While periodization is always something that we debate as literary students and scholars, it still organizes the way we teach our classes and the way we divide up the work of research and teaching in each period. I did not really question the notion of periods and all of those survey courses marching linearly through time that I took as an undergraduate. Until, that is, I was taking a Nineteenth Century British Literature survey course and we were looking at William Wordsworth that day. I had just been working on a project for another class on the Victorian period and what was happening in the year 1850. In the class on William Wordsworth the professor hit the highlights of his life and then mentioned he died in 1850. I remember thinking – wait, what?! He is a Romantic poet but he was alive at the height of the Victorian period. Then I looked at the publication dates of his work and noticed how many of them were in the Victorian, not the Romantic, period. This was the beginning of the tension I feel in cordoning off time periods and putting writers in boxes accordingly.

This interest has changed in focus slightly from the issue of dating to the issue of networks itself. These authors did not write alone or in isolation, but they had important networks of friends, family, and peers that had a vital influence on the kind of works they produced. I discovered most of these networks through my interest in minor writers, usually female, that get left out of the canon. Once you start exploring these women you begin to realize just how connected they are to the “major” male writers that tend to make it on course syllabi. Dorothy Wordsworth is perhaps the most famous example, and she is in fact often included in anthologies now (though clearly as the minor counterpart to her brother William). Thinking about the Brownings or the Shelleys as couples who formed literary networks is fun, and of course there are lots of groups who were well known enough to have earned names, such as the Lake School, the Cockney School, and the Bloomsbury group.

What do you enjoy most as you teach students about authors’ literary networks?

I most enjoy teaching my literature survey courses as networks because students begin to see these authors as human beings. For some reason, I think this creates a different comfort level where students feel able to respond and critique their work. A poem no longer becomes this perfect historical artifact preserved for its perfection, but a work in progress created out of joy and pain in the company (and through the critique) of others. I also enjoy the confusion that emerges from the messiness of trying to learn in a pattern that is not linear but circular and recursive. It is a productive chaos J.

Students in Dr. Pond's English 3351 course view their exhibit.

Students in Dr. Pond’s English 3351 course view their exhibit.

How have students responded to the literary networks exhibit assignment?

Students in general seem to really enjoy a different approach to a literary time period. They always have some new insight they learn specifically from the design set-up, an insight that they would not have gleaned from a traditional march through time looking at writers in isolation. Students also gain a lot from working with the library archives and collections. I have had numerous students go on to graduate school for library science because they realized their passion for working with those kinds of materials.

The Literary Network of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Literary Network Of Robert Browning And Elizabeth Barrett Browning Exhibit Poster

The Literary Network Of Robert Browning And Elizabeth Barrett Browning Exhibit Poster

In fall 2017, students in Dr. Kristen Pond’s upper-level English course, “Literary Networks in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” explored the relationships between writers of the Romantic, Victorian, and Modernist Periods utilizing the letters, manuscripts, rare books, and other collection materials at the Armstrong Browning Library.

The course revealed the discrepancy between the image of a ‘solitary genius’ creating art in isolation handed down from the Romantics and the act of literary creation. The nineteenth century boasts some of the most fascinating relationships between famous literary figures. Authors did not work alone but often collaborated, either directly by each person contributing something to the final piece or indirectly through the influence of conversations, interactions, or from reading one another’s works.

The students ended their semester by each curating a miniature exhibition that demonstrated connections between a Romantic, Victorian, or Modernist literary figure and Robert and/or Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Authors chosen by the students range from William Wordsworth to Charlotte Bronte and from Tennyson to T.S. Eliot. Come by the exhibit to see more authors and items chosen by the class which reveal the wide literary network of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.