A ‘Chamber of Horrors’: class and consumption at mid century

Jo Briggs

in Novelty fair

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print January 2016 | ISBN: 9780719089640
Published online September 2016 | e-ISBN: 9781526109590 | DOI:
A ‘Chamber of Horrors’: class and consumption at mid century

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The final chapter turns back to the themes raised in the first: questions of consumption and revolution, class and taste. In the aftermath of the Great Exhibition Henry Cole set up his ‘Chamber of Horrors’ at the Museum of Ornamental Art, but like Smith’s volumes on the gent, at the same time the display sought to ensure that the middle-class shopper would not make vulgar aesthetic choices, they highlighted the potentially disruptive, and even revolutionary, aspects of consumerism, linked to sweated labour, class mobility, and the impossibility of neutral aesthetic judgements based on objective standards. The writing of Charles Kingsley, Thomas Carlyle and Henry Morley are used to expand upon these themes. Morley’s humorous short story ‘A house full of horrors’ exposes the class prejudices underlying the selection of objects for Cole’s ‘Chamber of Horrors.’ The chapter ends with a consideration of the word ‘novelty,’ showing how it could have both positive and negative associations at this moment, capturing the contradictions at the heart of rapidly growing and inclusive consumerism.

Keywords: Museum of Ornamental Art; Henry Cole; Charles Kingsley; Thomas Carlyle; ‘Chamber of Horrors’; taste; class; novelty

Chapter.  8331 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Art

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