Pictures from the Rylands Library 50. Unlocking the Secrets of Julia’s Sweetheart Stella Halkyard a locket is a complex thing: a metal plate, belt or bolt; a fastening device, catch or clasp; a strand of hai r or wool; and a small case made of gold or silver worn as jewelry around the nec k containing a memento such as a portrait, photograph or lock of hair. Inscribed within them at the time of their making lockets embody an aesthetic of the hidden. A s ‘materialised secrets’ (Susan Stewart), lockets are ‘unfathomable stores of d ay dreams of intimacy‘ (Gaston Bachelard). Lacking the written testimony of its provenance the particular, nineteenth century example shown here seems especi ally keen to withhold its secrets. And yet this composite object is not quite mute for matter is vibrant and the ‘souls of the dead remai n trapped within objects until someone comes to de liver them’ (Marius Kwint), by piecing together their life histories from the clues and traces encoded within their ‘affordant properties’ (Jody Joy).
Mass prod uced but no less precious for that, this little locket’s gilded exterior gli nts. In masking metal of a cheaper manufacture it suggests it was once the proper ty of a person of lesser means. On closer inspection it is possible to see the tiny letters of the name of ‘Julia’ cut into the gilt, invoking the identity of the spotless neck it once adorned. The clasp unlocks, opens and
(Sally Holloway), for as Mauss observes, ‘to give something is to give a part of oneself’, literally in this case. So we hear the ‘ smooth, sweet silv’ry’ call of Julia’s sweetheart through the medium of his love token. But what of the response? According to Ginger Frost Victorian women ‘for whom all intimacy hides from vie w’ (Gaston Bachelard) rarely gave presents to their suitors. So unlike the damned in R obert Herrick’s poem we will never hear our Julia walking in her chamber, ‘melting melodious words to lutes of amber’.
reveals the hand-coloured rosy cheeks of a young man in the form of a photographic por trait, and a lock of his golden hai r. Is this Julia’s sweetheart?
Through its ‘material vocabulary’ (Angela McShane) this loc ket is eloquent in a language of love so such an assumption seems to be safe. When the locket was made romantic love was act ually formulated and communicated through objects like this one. The gift of a loc k of hair, as shown here, was thought to act ‘as a symbol of immortal love and affection [and] possessed a special efficacy as part of the livi ng body of a lover’
images Closed locket showing engraved name
‘Julia’, 1850s (VPH.40) Open locket showing a lock of hair, 1850s
(VPH.40) Open locket showing photographic portrait, 1850s (VPH.40) (© University of Manchester, 2020)