Jessica Allsop



College: College of Humanities
Discipline: English
Department: English

My PhD research is concerned with representations of collecting in literature of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. Images of personal collections are considered in relation to perceptions and engagements with the large-scale culture of public collecting and exhibition of the period. I suggest that we can complicate accepted critical paradigms regarding locations and practices of public exhibition, and the successful implementation and permeation of totalising narratives and commodity culture, through literary engagements with the figure of the individual collector.

By considering narratives presenting, or emerging from, effectively deviant, decentralised locations and perceptions, a view of the collection as a site for engagement with the non-rational and uncontainable object can be perceived. Through the concept of the curiosity complex, I suggest that these narratives demonstrate the manner in which the early modern cabinet of curiosities form of collection and display retained a powerful hold on a Victorian imaginary.

My interest in this area arose out of an engagement with a collection of short stories by Richard Marsh entitled Curios, encountered whilst writing my undergraduate dissertation on potentially his most widely known text, The Beetle. My MA dissertation, entitled “Curios and the Collection Besieged: Representations of Collecting at the fin de siècle”, allowed me to explore this lesser known text, in conjunction with other fin de siècle engagements with material objects and collections. Such texts were considered in relation to the question of whether the negative and destructive images permeating these texts indicated the figurative death of the collector in a period of consumerism, mass production, and taxonomic control.

My PhD thesis expands on these ideas, exploring issues of gender, masochism, self-destructive and self-punishing tendencies, legacy, and issues of identity formation, in relation to the exhibitionary and knowledge collecting and producing cultures of the period.