Senior Thesis on Inter-class Relationship in Victorian Britain

Lauren Pepitone, Class of 2007

In January of 2007 I traveled to the Wren Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. Archived in their collections are the papers of Arthur Munby (1828–1910) and Hannah Cullwick (1833–1908), a barrister and servant who engaged in a sixty-year-long relationship and who serve as a case study for my senior thesis. Munby was interested in working-class women, spending large amounts of time drawing and sketching them, recording interactions with them, and having them photographed. At his death, he left behind innumerable diaries, several dozen sketches, and over six hundred photographs. Also included in his papers is the diary of Hannah Cullwick, a servant he met perchance one day in London and who eventually became his wife.

Although I spent some time studying the diaries of Cullwick and Munby, I was primarily interested in viewing the photographs, as far fewer of these have been printed and published. I had not known prior to my arrival just how many photographs there were, and calculating the volume of the collection alone was both impressive and useful to my project. There were several photographs that I had not seen reproduced that strongly supported the argument I had formulated. Many of the photographs that had been reproduced in books were distorted in image and size. They also did not give a sense of how many of a certain image Munby collected and kept. In addition, few of Munby’s comments on the back of images had been printed, but they were incredibly helpful in explaining who the subject of the photograph was, as well as illuminating Munby’s opinions of that subject.

When I had finished exploring the collection in Cambridge, I traveled to London in an attempt to gain a sense of the city that Munby and Cullwick spent most of their lives in. Visiting various museums, I was exposed to a variety of objects from Victorian Britain. It was truly amazing to see everything from pairs of shoes to pairs of chairs designed for the Great Exhibition of 1851. I was also able to view the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, with whom Munby was peripherally involved. Traversing the city by foot, I learned the length of many of Cullwick’s journeys from one area to another. Viewing the architecture of the houses in South Kensington, I finally understood many of Cullwick’s descriptions of her tasks in the home. The travel award not only gave me access to a body of primary sources that would have been otherwise impossible to view, but also allowed me to explore a physical space so that I might better understand the daily lives of two of its earlier occupants.