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ERIC Number: ED516913
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 211
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
ISBN: ISBN-978-1-1097-7474-0
Ornamental Gentlemen: Literary Curiosities and Queer Romanticisms
Robinson, Michael Edward
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Southern California
The figure of the "bibliomaniacal" book collector with his "curious" malady--a "passion for collecting...that infects weak minds," according to Isaac D'Israeli (1766-1848)--serves as the focus of this dissertation about nineteenth-century British poetry and prose. More than a psychological condition or cultural practice, the bibliomaniac's mania also took the form of a discursive mode. Hence, this dissertation analyzes narratives of collecting as well as the figure of the book collector often central to them. In examining such narratives and the desires that drive them, I explore a cultural theory and practice not consumed by inspiration but inspired by consumption. I claim that the logic of book collecting instantiated the commodity form before it was theorized by Marx. But this fetish before the fetish, I also contend, was psychosexual as well as economic: the collector's alarming "curiosity" reflected the status of bibliomania as a sexual neurosis. The bibliomaniac, like earlier collectors such as the seventeenth-century Italianate virtuoso, was a queer type. The first chapter of the dissertation focuses on the archive of Thomas F. Dibdin housed at the Huntington Library. Dibdin, who styled himself an "ornamental Gentleman," celebrated the world of rare book collecting in a camp style marked by ornate book design and compulsive typographical emphasis. The chapter argues that both within and without bibliomaniacal circles, representations of collecting betray anxiety about the sexuality of the collector. I further claim that this anxiety intersected with concerns about collectors' materialistic and acquisitive style of cultural consumption. Far from being exclusive to the activities of collectors or bibliographers like Dibdin, the bibliomaniac's mode of consumption was intimately related to the culture of so-called "minor" Romanticism. The collecting practices of the bookish "hero" of "London Magazine" Charles Lamb and his Elia essays, including "Oxford in the Vacation," serve as the foci of the second chapter. Here I argue that Lamb's self-conception as a writer and his self-conscious preference for dog-eared volumes culled from London's used bookshops (his "ragged regiment of book tatterdemalions") played a role in his populist bohemianism. This personal and professional style reflected Lamb's efforts to distinguish himself from the emerging middle-class professional writer and at the same time marked his distance from the leisured man of letters. Lamb's prototypically punk cultural practices find a parallel in those of another writer for the magazines, Thomas De Quincey, whose writings and style of collecting are the subject of the third chapter. I argue that the "opium-eater's" allegedly unmatched consumption of opium did in fact have a peer--of a different stripe. Such was the avidity of De Quincey's collecting that at one point his library displaced his family from their home. But in the case of De Quincey, the fetishism of the literary was a theory as well as a practice. More specifically, De Quincey's materialistic relations with literature coextend with the theoretical position on transcendentalism taken in the "Confessions." Here, a picture of his youthful bibliomania--the surreptitious flight from Manchester Grammar School with a trunk of books--plays a central role in an ironic critique of both Kantian and Wordsworthian idealisms. These articulations of opposition in the theory and praxis of bibliomania recurred in one of its legacies, the Victorian literary society. Instrumental in the construction of Romanticism during the Victorian period, clubs like Frederick J. Furnivall's Shelley Society also continued the tradition of private printing begun by Dibdin's collecting society, the Roxburghe Club. Two active members of several such clubs were the bibliographers and forgers Thomas J. Wise (1859-1937) and Henry ("Harry") Buxton Forman (1842-1917). The pair's activities gained notoriety when rare first editions of works of Victorian poetry linked to them, including a famous edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Songs from the Portuguese," were identified as forgeries. In the context of a queer reading of their project and their legitimate as well as illegitimate works, I argue that Wise and Forman's culture of imposture identifies Romanticism as an artifact of bibliomania. This project on bibliomaniacal Romanticism and its afterlife makes two kinds of intervention, in literary history and queer studies. On the one hand, my research expands the present understanding of Romantic ideas about the material conditions of the making and partaking of art. On the other, in locating a bookish and queer aesthetic in the period, it develops a model for locating queerness within oppositional cultural practices in the nineteenth century. (Abstract shortened by UMI.) [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A