Eloquent Objects: Evidence, Imagination, and the Elusive Biographical Subject

When Mar 31, 2021
from 04:00 PM to 05:55 PM
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Natalie Dykstra

A biographer relies on all kinds of evidence in reconstructing a life narrative: letters, diaries, financial and household documents, manuscripts, sketchbooks, photograph albums, published material of all sorts. Often, though, there are gaps or silences in a life story for a variety of reasons. The subject left few traces or wanted to hide from history; the record was lost or destroyed; the evidence that remains is in some way illegible.  It is illegible evidence that intrigues Professor Dykstra – specifically, what happens when a biographical subject’s expressiveness is not in words, either spoken or on the page, but instead in objects, collected, displayed, given away? How are objects eloquent of a lived life? Professor Dykstra will explore this question in relation to her next book, a biography of American art collector, Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), who burned many of her letters, but left an object-based memoir in the form of a museum in Boston that bears her name.  

NATALIE DYKSTRA is the author of CLOVER ADAMS: A GILDED AND HEARTBREAKING LIFE, a 2013 Massachusetts Book Award finalist.  She received a 2005 NEH Fellowship for her research on Clover Adams and a 2018 NEH Public Scholar Award for her upcoming biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner. She is Professor of English at Hope College and an elected Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society.  

This talk is free and sponsored by the Thruston B. Morton Endowment and the English Department at the University of Louisville.


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