Tresses, Textualities, and Sir Walter Scott

Fall, 2019

Hill Memorial Library’s special collections holds various locks of hair clipped and contextualized during the Civil War. The paratext around hair tells a story of chivalric fantasy, medievalism, and gender constructs in the South. Emerging under the influence of Sir Walter Scotts’ fiction, the performance of giving one’s hair became a kind of medieval reenactment during a time when hair played a prominent role in mourning culture and female identity. Looking at hair, we can read a brave new landscape of women’s emotions and their constructions of self through narratives of medievalism. To access the culture of a nineteenth-century woman, we must study the silent artifacts she left behind. It is through the paratext of her physical hair that we might unearth shades of her personality, perhaps in the ribbon that binds it, or in the poem she chose for enclosing it.