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Chapter 3 - Reading for differentiation: the family romance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

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Summary

DESPITE GEORGE SCHARF'S professional success and eventual social status, most people who have heard the name are thinking of his father. It is George Scharf Sr's urban sketches– tracking street by street and demolished house by demolished house the emergence of Regency London and of the city we know today– that were brought together in the 1980s as an exhibition and a book, both entitled George Scharf's London. If George Jr does not get to possess, in the contemporary imagination, the city in which he, too, lived and worked, he did in his own time manage to surpass his father in reputation and class, to leave behind the slightly pathetic figure, the chronically underemployed immigrant debtor who shared– that is to say, anticipated– his name. The remarkable story of George Jr's class and professional ascendancy, marked by increasing signs of public respect, achieved its apotheosis in the nominal change that shortly preceded his death: the not-quite- posthumous creation of ‘Sir George Scharf’, the addition of ‘Sir’ to the name of the son, marked the distance between the two men for posterity.

The official record, in which George Scharf Jr becomes, after his father's death, the singular ‘George Scharf’, and close to his own death becomes ‘Sir’, tells a shapely story of filial differentiation, a story so culturally powerful that it has produced theories and disciplines as well as the more intimate stories many people tell about their own lives. The hero of this official story is the ‘George Scharf’ whose name, eventually shorn of its ‘Jr’, appears in the London Times in (admittedly at the end of) lists of guests at royal levees and as the signature to letters to the editor. This is the George Scharf who writes articles for the Athenaeum and who is addressed with increasing intimacy by Lord Stanhope as the two men collaborate at the National Portrait Gallery. This is also the George Scharf who makes annual appearances in the diaries’ year-end summaries, which, as we have seen, individually and in aggregate provide the structure for his triumphal narrative.

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Love Among the Archives
Writing the Lives of Sir George Scharf, Victorian Bachelor
, pp. 118 - 168
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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