Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Wednesday, June 07, 2023 12:30 am by M. in , ,    No comments
A paper exploring the museums as seen in Villette:
Lindsey N. Chappell
Literature Compass, 26 May 2023

The museum is not a neutral container, a passive collection of art and artifacts. Rather the museum is itself a historical argument, using objects and their relations to write our collective stories. This essay shows how the museum, as it developed within nineteenth-century European imperialism, directs meaning both within and beyond literature. The museum integrates readers into its collections and its narratives, directing them figuratively and literally through exhibits. Nineteenth-century literature, I argue, capitalizes on this dynamic interplay among the collection, the viewing subject, and the museum's ideologies. In both poetry and prose the museum appears as a place, a concept, and a form. For example, William Thackeray's “May Day Ode” shows how the Crystal Palace and the 1851 Great Exhibition facilitate an imperialist agenda. The galleries in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, meanwhile, are not just places the characters go; they also exert control over how characters (and readers) experience and evaluate collections. Across these texts, the museum is setting and theme. But, I argue, the museum also works as form, curating the collections, the characters who visit them, and the readers who access the narrative through museum logics. In conjunction with literary examples and an overview of scholarly conversations around nineteenth-century museum studies, I consider how the museum continues to direct bodies, interpretations, and ideas today by drawing on my experiences using museums in the college classroom.


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