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Louisville Professor Explores Meaning In Literary Objects

Brontë Parsonage Museum

The corset, dog collar, portable writing desk and bracelet made of human hair may appear to be just objects.

But they once belonged to members of a significant literary family.

The pieces were once possessions of the Brontë sister and are the topic of a 2015 book by  University of Louisville English professor Deborah Lutz.

She will be exploring the world of material objects and their meaning in a lecture Thursday at the University Club entitled "Literary Relics: Charlotte Brontë's Hair, Percy B. Shelley's Skull and Emily Brontë's Black Sofa."

Lutz is the author of “The Brontë Cabinet,” which tells the lives of the Bronte sisters through a series of objects they owned. The book is now a finalist for the PEN literary award for biography.

Lutz said she is interested in the way that objects can carry memory — for example, a ring passed down from a family member — or can be imbued with meaning, such as an everyday object that belonged to someone who was well-known.

In the digital age, those objects carry even more resonance, she said.

"One of the arguments that I make in my books is that we have, to some extent, lost this connection to the tactile, especially in relation to the dead body," Lutz said.

Lutz collects vintage "hair jewelry" and will be bringing some examples to show at the lecture. In the Victorian era, it was common to cut a lock of hair from a deceased spouse or other loved one, and have it made into a piece of jewelry, usually combined with metals like gold or precious stones. Lutz said she loves these artifacts, but understands that many people find them to be odd or distasteful.

"It's interesting to see people's reactions to that. One of my things I do in these talks is, in some sense, try to convince people that it's something beautiful and not something that is creepy," said Lutz.

“Literary Relics: Charlotte Bronte’s Hair, Percy B. Shelley’s Skull and Emily Bronte’s Black Sofa,”  will be presented at noon on Thursday at the University Club, as part of the monthly “Meet the Professor” series.

To reserve a spot at the luncheon, attendees must register by calling  852-2247 lecture by noon Wednesday. The cost is $15.