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Chapter 2 - Reading for romance: the marriage plot

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

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Summary

SO FAR WE HAVE structured the story of this project around an originary narrative and, indeed, a moment of origin– our encounter with George Scharf's album of menus and invitations that served as our introduction to him (see Fig. 1.1). Certainly that origin shaped our initial sense of George as a guest, a diner out.

If we had not always had before us the glowing after-image of the menus, the gilded names of country houses and the calling cards of the rich and famous, we would perhaps have read the diaries differently: we might have read George not only or primarily as a guest but also as a host. Although, as we describe in the introduction, we found traces of Scharf as a host in the album and in the nightmare of hospitality we construed from those traces, the album resolutely and snobbishly tied him to country estates and their social rituals. The diaries, however, show Scharf as an almost obsessive giver of dinners, small and large, and as the centre of what one guest called ‘The Ashley Place Circle’, a group of male friends defined by the address of the lodgings Scharf rented for the last two and a half decades of his life. The diaries provide lists– sometimes, on special occasions in the form of seating charts– itemising a series of regular guests who were usually young, mostly untitled and invariably male. The diaries allow us to see, as the album does not, the importance of home and of the process of planning, budgeting for and producing (through his cook, who was also his maid-of- all- work) a series of dinners, elaborate and high-calorie by our modern standards, but fundamentally different in style and in substance from those he ate as a guest at great houses.

Derrida reminds us, of course, that the role of guest and host are mutually constitutive; both are obviously aspects of the story that we hoped would become a life, if not a Life of George Scharf (Derrida, p. 18). But the shift in focus in our reading of the diaries from guest to host, from entries about country houses to entries about London lodgings, allowed us to tell a set of stories about Scharf completely different from the ones the album had inspired.

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Love Among the Archives
Writing the Lives of Sir George Scharf, Victorian Bachelor
, pp. 62 - 117
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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