The IU Lilly Library will feature its exhibit “The Victorian Book: From the Gutter to the Stars” from now until December. The exhibit explores the print revolution of 19th-century Britain, and its influences on print today.
Books from the Victorian era, such as cloth-bound hardcovers, Christmas annuals, and serialized novels can be found at the exhibition.
The curator of the exhibit, Rebecca Baumann, said before the 19th century, people used cotton and linen rags to make books. As technology evolved, the process became more mechanized. The rotary press and wood pulp paper made printing cheaper and faster, giving people who didn’t have the opportunity before better access to books.
“What I really wanted to focus on was all the different ways that people read during the Victorian period that were new and different from the ways that people had read before,” Baumann said.
Not only were books more widely accessible during this era, but the kinds of stories being told shifted as well. More fiction stories were published at a faster rate in the Victorian era, which still affects how people find entertainment today, she said. For example, Charles Dickens broke up his novels into small parts, rather than releasing the full stories all at once, so people would go out and buy each part once they came out. This is comparable to how people consume entertainment today, such as waiting for a new episode of a favorite TV show to come out.
Around this time, Baumann said, genres such as detective fiction and science fiction, started to gain popularity. Some of the more well-known pieces of literature displayed in the exhibit are Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and the first Sherlock Holmes story.
“I hope people will come see it just to think more about how people told stories in the past,” Baumann said. “Even if they’d never heard of any of the books that are on display.”
Students can also visit the library for other events related to the exhibit, she said.
Guests can check out A First Thursday Celebration: The Victorian Roots of the Weird at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at Lilly Library. This will be another free admission and pop-up exhibition where people can interact with more items from the collection, even feel the wood pulp paper that made the books cheaper to make. The Sage Collection, the historical costume collection on campus, will bring in clothes from the Victorian era that people will also be able to look at and touch. The event will also feature Victorian scrapbooking and a lecture led by an antique bookseller.
Jenny Mack, the museum exhibition specialist, said she helps suggest content and presentation ideas for each exhibit at Lilly Library.
“I help them make sure that whatever story that they’re trying to tell really comes across to an audience broadly as opposed to a specific, narrow audience,” Mack said.
With the material being as old as it is, deciding which books can withstand being on display is important. It’s a rare situation, but if an item is not in great condition, then it may not be able to be shown, she said.
Lexi Babcock, a freshman who checked out the displays, talked about the different ways that made the contents of the exhibition unique.
“There was actual effort put into making the covers look nice and making it last longer, because the sleeves don’t last now, they fall off and get lost,” Babcock says.
The exhibit is free admission and is open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, until Dec. 15.