Within our Ronchetti Collection I came across a Victorian writing album. These books were purchased blank and passed amongst family and friends who would inscribe poems, sentiments and illustrations before returning the album to its original owner. They are also known as autograph books, which since the 20th century have become more commonly associated with gaining signatures and messages from well-known celebrities. Earlier versions of these albums were more personal and sentimental than their modern successors.
Victorian writing albums allowed friends to express their sentimentality for one another and display this in which ever format suited them. An apt description of these albums can be found from within its pages:
‘Once almost every maid possessed
an album in which friends addressed
some poem, prose or rhyme
where lovers could not quite disguise
the tender passions that would rise
to verse – almost sublime’
This example is from 1894 and consists of quotes, poems, acceptable behaviours and hand drawn illustrations. Each beautifully crafted page has the author or artists inscription beneath their ‘autograph’.
One inscription in this album depicts idealised behavioural expectations for young ladies but does so in a tongue-in-cheek manner. ‘Church Rules for the Ladies’ provides guidelines for the ideal churchgoer and juxtaposes these with the unchristian practices adopted by vain women. This shows how attending church does not automatically signify that you are a moral Victorian woman.
Alongside these humorous poems there are more serious quotations on love and life to provide advice for the young lady. This beautifully illustrated album provides an insight in to femininity and what it meant to be a woman in the late 19th century.