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What does it mean to point to your nose with your right index finger? The Victorians would immediately understand the meaning of this gesture that appears in George Cruikshank’s “A Chapter of Noses” from My Sketch Book (1834) and “The Jew and Morris Bolter Begin to Understand Each Other” for Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1838).  Pointing to your nose was a way to signal to another that you share a private understanding, that you are “in the know.” Through Victorian illustrated books and periodicals, “‘In the Know,’ Victorian Style” illuminates aspects of Victorian culture, which—like gesturing to the nose—are not readily understood by readers today.  This inside look into life in the Victorian age is designed to help today’s readers be “in the know.”

The first case, “In the Know in Victorian Life,” provides information on the economic reality of Victorian times.  For example, one could buy an installment of a popular serial for a shilling, but for 1/12th of that same shilling, a family could buy a stale 4-lb. loaf of bread to feed a whole family.  The binding of a bound book (boards, cloth, leather, gilding) tells us how much it was worth in Victorian times and who could afford to purchase it.

The second case, “In the Know Inside the Victorian Home,” recognizes that material objects spoke volumes to the Victorians.  To the Victorian viewer, the small figurine of Paul Pry on Mrs. Corney’s mantel in “Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney Taking Tea” from Oliver Twist was immediately recognizable. Paul Pry, a stock character from a well-known play by John Poole also called Paul Pry (1825), was known to appear at inopportune moments and pry into another’s business.  The figure signals Mr. Bumble’s corrupt motivation for marrying Mrs. Corney.  

The third case, “In the Know about Victorian Love,” illuminates Victorian style courtship etiquette.  For example, Victorian valentines were popular missives of love, and they contain flowers rich in meaning. Today we still associate a rose with love, but those “in the know” recognize there was an entire language of flowers to convey your sentiments.  

The fourth and final case, “In the Know about Victorian Humor,” illuminates what Victorians considered to be funny. Changing dynamics of Victorian life and customs were prime vehicles for humor.  While today a hat is not a necessity for a gentleman, Robert Seymour captures Samuel Pickwick at the height of indignity in The Pickwick Papers (1837) as he chases after his runaway hat to the amusement of the hatted onlookers.

This exhibit comes from EN 228H, “The Victorian Illustrated Book,” under the supervision of Professor Catherine J. Golden, Department of English; Wendy Anthony, Special Collections Curator; and Jane Kjaer, Public Access Assistant.

The exhibit will be on display until July 14, 2017.

Click here to see a slideshow sample of images from the exhibit, and learn more in this booklet created by EN 228H, "The Victorian Illustrated Book" students and Professor Catherine J. Golden.

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Alexander Street Drama brings together thousands of plays from Alexander Street's individual full-text drama collections and makes them accessible and cross-searchable in a single, specially priced package. It includes the complete content of Black Drama, Asian American Drama, Latino Drama, Twentieth Century North American Drama, North American Indian Drama, and North American Women's Drama.

2ndAnnualAlteredBooksContest winners

The trophy for the 2nd Annual Lucy Scribner Library Altered Books Contest goes to Entry #3 by Breda Pashley and Meg Hegener of Student Academic Services!


Thanks to all who competed this year! We will leave the books on display for a few more days in case you missed seeing them. Most of the entries will join our ongoing altered books display on the first floor of the Library.


Sabin Americana, 1500–1926 is the most comprehensive collection of works about the Americas from the time of discovery through the early 20th century. It provides a wide range of materials published anywhere in the world, providing original accounts of discovery and exploration, pioneering and westward expansion, the U.S. Civil War and other military actions, Native Americans, slavery and abolition, and religious history. As such, it provides valuable primary documents to support research in the areas of history, political science, anthropology, women’s studies, religious studies, Latin American/Caribbean studies and much more.

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