Topos, Taxonomy and Travel in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Scrapbooks

  • Clare Pettitt
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


In the remarkable Sir Harry Page Collection of nearly 300 albums and commonplace books at the Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections, there is an elaborate scrapbook created by E. and T. Wilson between 1800 and 1830. The Wilson album is skilfully painted with trompe-l’oeil watercolours which make each page seem like a confusion of papers and objects piled upon one another, pinned and tied together with ribbons, partially concealing each other. On one page, a nautical map is painted on a scroll and titled ‘Rules for Sailing into Felicity Harbour’. The map charts in detail the ‘Bay of False Delicacy’, the ‘Lake of Contempt’, ‘Hesitation Point’ and ‘Consummation Straits’ which have to be navigated to enter the ‘Harbour of Marriage’, although the waters are still treacherous here with the ‘Rocks of Jealousy’ and the ‘Whirlpool of Adultery’ (see Figure 2.1).1 A verse is added: ‘Fair Virtue must your Pilot be / Your Compass Prudence, Peace your Sea / Your Anchor Hope, your Stowage Love, / (To your true course still constant prove) / Your Ballast Sense; and Reason pure / Must ever be your Cynosure’. In the corner of the same page of the album is a tiny watercolour sketch which is titled ‘Seacomb Ferry Boat’, a sailing skiff that ferried passengers between Birkenhead and Liverpool from 1817 onwards.


Title Page Hesitation Point Textual Orderliness Print Culture Travel Writing 
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Notes and references

  1. 2.
    James A. Secord, ‘Scrapbook Science: Composite Caricatures in Late Georgian England’, Figuring It Out: Science, Gender and Visual Culture, ed. Ann B. Shteir and Bernard V. Lightman (Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2006), pp. 164–91 (p. 186).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Recent work on scrapbooks includes: Sharon Marcus, ‘Theatrical Scrapbooks’, Theatre Survey, 54.2 (2013), 283–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)Google Scholar
  4. Susan Tucker, Katherine Ott and Patricia P. Buckler, eds, The Scrapbook in American Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006). Much of this work is focused on American scrapbooks, although Patrizia di Bello has written on English albums:Google Scholar
  5. Patrizia di Bello, Women’s Albums and Photography in Victorian England: Ladies, Mothers and Flirts (Farnham: Ashgate, 2007).Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Louisa Henrietta Sheridan, ‘The Adventures of an Album’, The Comic Offering; or Ladies’ Melange of Literary Mirth (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1831), pp. 251–85 (p. 259), referenced by Secord.Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    Thad Logan, The Victorian Parlour: A Cultural Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 124.Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    Mrs Margaret Gatty, ‘Introduction’, British Sea-Weeds: Drawn from Professor Harvey’s ‘Phycologica Britannica’. With descriptions. An Amateur’s Synopsis, Rules for Laying-Out Sea-Weeds An Order for arranging them in the Herbariumm, and an Appendix of New Species (London: Bell & Daldy, 1863), p. vii–xix, p. xi.Google Scholar
  9. 23.
    HPC Number 41, E. Tayleur c. 1830–1860. Austen Henry Layard, Nineveh and its Remains (London: John Murray, 1849).Google Scholar
  10. 28.
    See John R. Robinson and H. Hunter Robinson, The Life of Robert Coates, Better known as ‘Romeo’ and ‘Diamond’ Coates, The Celebrated ‘Amateur of Fashion’ (London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1891).Google Scholar
  11. 35.
    Susan Stewart aligns scrapbooks with ‘memory quilts, photo albums and baby books’; see Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), p. 139Google Scholar
  12. Jessica K. Dallow, ‘Treasures of the Mind: Individuality and Authenticity in Late Nineteenth-century Scrapbooks’, MA thesis University of North Carolina (1995)Google Scholar
  13. Jennifer A. Jolly ‘History in the Making: A Columbian Exposition Scrapbook’, The Scrapbook in American Life,. ed. Susan Tucker, Katherine Ott and Patricia P. Buckler (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006), pp. 79–96 (p. 89).Google Scholar
  14. 44.
    Ellen Gruber Garvey, ‘Scissorizing and Scrapbooks: Nineteenth-Century Reading, Remaking, and Recirculating’, New Media, 1740–1915, ed. Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), pp. 207–27 (pp. 214, 225).Google Scholar
  15. 45.
    John M’Diarmid, The Scrap Book; A Collection of Amusing and Striking Pieces In Prose and Verse, with, an Introduction, and Occasional Remarks and Contributions (Edi nburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1823–4), p. ix.Google Scholar
  16. 48.
    Meredith L. McGill, ‘Common Places: Poetry, Illocality, and Temporal Dislocation in Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers’, American Literary History, 19 (2007), 357–74 (p. 357).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 49.
    Ina Ferris, ‘Antiquarian Authorship: D’Israeli’s Miscellany of Literary Curiosity and the Question of Secondary Genres’, Studies in Romanticism, 45 (2006), 523–42 (p. 534).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 50.
    Paul Smethurst, ‘Introduction’, Travel Writing, Form and Empire: The Poetic and Politics of Mobility, ed. Julia Kuehn and Paul Smethurst (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp. 1–18 (p. 7).Google Scholar
  19. 52.
    Ann Blair, ‘Humanist Methods in Natural Philosophy: The Commonplace Book’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 53 (1992), pp. 541–51 (pp. 547–8).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 55.
    Susan M. Stabile, ‘Female Curiosities: The Transatlantic Female Commonplace Book’, Reading Women: Literacy, Authorship, and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1500–1800, ed. Heidi Brayman Hackel and Catherine E. Kelly (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), pp. 217–44 (p. 226).Google Scholar
  21. 57.
    Thomas Carlyle, Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches, 4 vols (London: Chapman and Hall, 1897), I, p. 2. See Ferris, ‘Antiquarian Authorship’, p. 541.Google Scholar
  22. 58.
    See Griselda Pollock, ‘Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity’, Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and Histories of Art (London: Routledge, 1988), pp. 50–90 (p. 63). My attention was first drawn to the relevance of Pollock’s work to this discussion by Patrizia di Bello in her Women’s Albums and Photography.Google Scholar
  23. 59.
    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962), p. 46.Google Scholar
  24. 65.
    Andrew Piper, Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2009), p. 127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 66.
    Wendy Wall’s work on women’s commonplace books suggests this; see Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 107.Google Scholar
  26. 68.
    See Laura Mandell, ‘Felicia Hemans and the Gift-Book Aesthetic’, Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, 6 (2001), cc06_n01.html.Google Scholar

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© Clare Pettitt 2016

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  • Clare Pettitt

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