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Museum Trouble

Edwardian Fiction and the Emergence of Modernism
Ruth Hoberman

BUY Cloth · 256 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813931265 · $43.50 · Jun 2011
BUY Ebook · 256 pp. · ISBN 9780813931364 · $43.50 · Jun 2011

By 1901, the public museum was firmly established as an important national institution in British life. Its very centrality led to its involvement in a wide range of debates about art, knowledge, national identity, and individual agency. Ruth Hoberman argues that these debates concerned writers as well. Museum Trouble focuses on fiction written between 1890 and 1914 and the ways in which it engaged the issues dramatized by and within the museum.

Those issues were many. Art critics argued about what kind of art to buy on behalf of the nation, how to display it, and whether salaried professionals or aristocratic amateurs should be in charge. Museum administrators argued about the best way to exhibit scientific and cultural artifacts to educate the masses while serving the needs of researchers. And novelists had their own concerns about an increasingly commercialized literary marketplace, the nature of aesthetic response, the impact of evolution and scientific materialism, and the relation of the individual to Britain’s national and imperial identity.

In placing the many crucial museum scenes of Edwardian fiction in the context of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century cultural discourse, Museum Trouble shows how this turn-of-the-century literature anticipated many of the concerns of the modernist writers who followed.


Museum Trouble is a highly original and substantial contribution to scholarship on turn-of-the-twentieth-century British literature, visual art, and culture.

Ann Ardis, University of Delaware, author of Modernism and Cultural Conflict, 1880–1922

Ruth Hoberman enlists an array of literary texts to illuminate her claim that modernism emerged not simply from the repudiated ruins of Victorian realism but instead from "the conflicts and ironies dramatized in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century museum narratives" (166).... Museum Trouble makes a strong case for how modernists depended on such public institutions in order to dismantle them in form and thery.... There is a wealth of historical material in this book.... Organized and displayed well, Museum Trouble is its own verbal museum of Edwardian literary artifacts.

Journal of British Studies

The Conjunction of literary history and museum studies explored in Museum Trouble represents an exciting new interdisciplnary field within the Humanities, and the book offers a timely and highly readable introduction to it.

Rupert Richard Arrowsmith, University College London · Modernism/modernity

Hoberman’s Museum Trouble is a readable and authoritative tract on Edwardian museum history, culture, and literature and would inform both the advanced student and the professional scholar.

Marcia Farrell, Wilkes University · James Joyce Quarterly

In her discussion of the development of museums at the turn of the twentieth century, Hoberman reveals an important portion of the impetus for the emergence of modernism at that time.

Nanette Norris, Royal Military College St. Jean · The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association

About the Author(s): 

Ruth Hoberman is Professor of English at Eastern Illinois University and the author of Modernizing Lives: Experiments in English Biography, 1910–1939 and Gendering Classicism: The Ancient World in Twentieth-Century Women’s Historical Fiction.

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