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Chapter 4 - Reading for success: the professional plot

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

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Summary

IN THE LAST TWO chapters we have read some key moments in Scharf's life with and against two dominant cultural narratives: the romance plot and the differentiation plot. These plots are intimately but complexly related to literary genres– the marriage-plot novel and the Bildungsroman. This chapter focuses not so much on a single plot as on a culturally privileged place that has generated a variety of literary plots. By telling the story of Scharf's relationship with two great country houses only seven miles apart, we cannot help invoking the frisson-inducing spectre of the Gothic and sensation novel and the linked cultural and literary plot of inheritance. Scharf's relationships with Knole, the home of the Sackville family, and Chevening, the seat of the earls of Stanhope (both located in Sevenoaks, Kent), brought up for us some of the central questions of Gothic and sensation novels: who belongs to the house, and who does not? Who is absorbable into the household, and who, finally, is foreign to it and must be thrust out into a different space, whether that be a prison, an asylum or another country?1 Who represents the future of the house and who inherits it? If we see Scharf not as that urban extra man, Mr Twemlow of Our Mutual Friend, but as something more like Walter Hartwright, the drawing master who visits Limmeridge House in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, what would that shift tell us and how might it help us pose the question that bothered us so long: where in the class system of the last quarter of the nineteenth century did George Scharf belong?

Our answers, even if they unfold within a sensational structure, are realist in mode and method. As far as we know there are no bigamous marriages in the story of Scharf's visits to Knole and Chevening, no hidden offspring, no murdered heirs, in short, no paradigm-shifting secrets to which he was a party. We did eventually find a possible candidate for villain in the person of Mortimer, Lord Sackville, who– as we explain below– shifted in our imaginations from a dull and harmless snob to something more sinister.

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Love Among the Archives
Writing the Lives of Sir George Scharf, Victorian Bachelor
, pp. 169 - 218
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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