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Nineteenth-Century Contexts

An Interdisciplinary Journal
Volume 44, 2022 - Issue 3
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“One should never write in albums”: analyzing nineteenth-century albums as social networks

The attention of others is the most irresistible of drugs.”
— George Franck, “The Economy of Attention” (Citation2019)
“Ne ferez-vous rien pour mon Album, vous qui avez
mis de si jolies choses sur l’Album de toutes ces dames?”
[“Would you not do something for my Album, you who have
put such beautiful things in the Album of all those ladies?”]
— Victor-Joseph Étienne de Jouy, “Des Album” (Citation1811)

“The price of the album is 5,000 euros”, stated the shop clerk at the specialized antiquarian bookstore in Madrid, “but if you pay cash, we can give you a discount”. That magnificent album with contributions from prominent writers such as José Zorrilla (1817–1893) and Ramón de Campoamor (1817–1901) was certainly out of my financial reach, thus, I returned it reassuring her that I would think about it. After years doing research on the phenomenon of the nineteenth-century album in France and Spain, I know that antiquarian stores and auctions do not grant access to these objects of study beyond the quick glance permitted in the expectation of a pecuniary transaction. Fortunately, there are other somewhat more democratic spaces where one can perform an academic exploration of albums: the archives of national libraries and museums. The monetary value of the album at that Madrilenian antiquarian bookstore responds to a capitalist dynamic that is not necessarily linked to an acknowledgement of its significance as a vessel of history and stories. Someone will eventually purchase it to add to their collection, perhaps vaguely aware of its symbolic cultural meaning, but without the defined goal of analyzing its contents. Meanwhile, I will keep returning to the archives, those liminal spaces that, as Jacques Derrida declared, mark the “institutional passage from the private to the public, which does not always mean from the secret to the nonsecret” (Citation1995, 10). It is precisely in that threshold of multiple realities where I can study albums as historical artifacts that offer a complex understanding of nineteenth-century ideas of the self, artistic exchanges, and gender dynamics in France and Spain.

When imagining a nineteenth-century social gathering, most people would populate the scene with a diversity of objects, including fans, parasols, hats, and pocket-watches. Few beyond scholars familiar with the essential accoutrements of bourgeois sociability would include albums in this list, as the awareness of their use is relatively uncommon. Albums were books with blank pages in which owners collected contributions (poetry, drawings, or music scores) from acquaintances, who were ideally well-known artists in their milieu. Those entries were supposed to exalt the physical and moral attributes of the album owners. Although I have found some exceptions to this in my archival research, album exchanges in the contexts I study were generally determined by stereotypical gender roles in which women were consumers who owned albums and gathered entries, and men were producers who contributed to them.Footnote1 Albums may not be the most emblematic nineteenth-century objects today, but they were considered important enough to provoke the impulse to save many of them for posterity. Those are the albums that currently remain in public and private collections, libraries, and archives. It is indispensable here to problematize the reasons why only certain albums have endured the passage of time via their preservation in manuscript collections. As I explain in the following analysis, the albums that I have consulted belonged primarily to the wives and daughters of writers, journalists, or politicians, that is, women who had the economic and social means to complete these collections. Understandably, the albums indirectly linked to important men in the nineteenth-century public scene that featured a valuable collection of entries by well-known artists had increased possibilities of being preserved until today. In his Citation1871 anthology of stereotypical portraits of Spanish women, Roberto Robert includes an entry on “La señorita cursi”, or “The tacky young lady”. Robert characterizes the social class of the “tacky young lady” by pointing out that she lives with her mother in a humble apartment on a third floor and that she burns herself out working until night in order to be able to save some money. The private and public practices of the tacky young lady also reveal her economic position in that society, as she “manda reteñir sus vestidos; restaura personalmente su calzado cuando este solo ha padecido leve detrimento; se hace la pomada, tiene álbum, asiste de vez en cuando á teatros de segundo órden, y va á ver la parada, si la parada se verifica en dia festivo” (87) [“sends for her dresses to be dyed; she fixes her shoes herself when they have been only slightly damaged, she puts on ointments, she has an album, she goes occasionally to second-class theaters, and she goes see the parade, if the parade takes place on a holiday”].Footnote2 Here, Robert is clearly responding to a conceptualization of the album developed later in the eighteen-hundreds, once this trend had lost much of the social prestige it had earlier on. However, we can imagine that throughout the century there were women from lower social classes who, lacking the money to buy expensive albums or the social networks needed to gather a collection, still participated, albeit to a limited degree, in this trend. Albums that were perhaps made with inferior materials and included entries by contributors who were “common” men, unknown in artistic circles, did not make their way into the archives to be studied today as historical documents. Thus, the albums currently existing in collections must be approached with an awareness of the factors that determined their present-day availability, which correlate to the reasons why other albums are not available in contemporary collections.

I have consulted thirty-seven albums in France and Spain, along with a selection of independent contributions detached from their original books.Footnote3 The comparative study of the album practice in these two countries stems from a history of France’s cultural influence upon Spain. This power dynamic existed before the nineteenth century but certainly intensified after the Napoleonic Invasion in 1808, which led to the Peninsular War (1808–1814). The complexity of the relationship between France and Spain transcended territorial politics and permeated social behaviors and practices, as demonstrated by the generalized use of the term afrancesado (“Frenchified”) as a negative descriptor. In my transnational research, I combine the analysis of albums kept in archives with that of the literary representation of this phenomenon, aiming to create a multifaceted approach to its development. The study of the literature depicting the album allows for an understanding of the links between the manifestation of this trend in France and Spain, as well as the chronology of its development. In his Citation1835 social customs essay on the album, Spanish costumbrista Mariano José de Larra (1809–1837) acknowledges that an “autor francés” had already written an essay about this fashion in 1811, “año en que comenzó a hacer furor esta moda en París” (Citation1835, 331) [“French author”, “the year when this fashion became all the rage in Paris”]. Larra is referring to French writer Victor-Joseph Étienne de Jouy (1764–1846), who had written his own étude de mœurs about the album decades before him. There are similar correlations in the dates of other literary texts and even albums that confirm the presence of this custom throughout the century in both countries, although Spain consistently lagged behind its northern neighbor. In fact, Larra points out that Spanish women were the last ones to discover this craze, after their English and French counterparts had embraced it. In terms of the chronology, an important commonality towards the end of the century is that in both countries the album became a nuisance for artists, thus losing the standing it had during the Romantic era. The narrator of Leopoldo Alas’s (1852–1901) short story “Álbum-abanico”, from Citation1898, refers to said decline in the practice affirming that by that time the album “era cosa bastante desacreditada” (257) [“was a quite discredited thing”].

Although the album is not widely known about, there is an emergent scholarly interest on this phenomenon and other similar types of personal books in which owners collected autographs, texts (intimate, original, or published), clippings, and even small objects. Zboray and Zboray (Citation2009) have analyzed the complexities of accessing archival documents such as albums, scrapbooks, commonplace books, and others, which are due to the limitations of contemporary cataloguing efforts. The scholarship on the album reflects the diverse manifestations of this practice in different geographical contexts. Sánchez-Eppler (Citation2007) and Zebuhr (Citation2015) explore friendship albums in the United States, and Dunbar (Citation2008) analyzes specifically the participation of African American women in this nineteenth-century trend.Footnote4 In the European context, Di Bello (Citation2007) wrote an extensive study on Victorian women's photography albums in which she dedicated a chapter to the type of manuscript album that I address here. Beinek’s (Citation2011) incisive approach to Polish and Russian albums includes an accurate reflection of these books as “acts of memory” and “tools used in the construction and preservation of national identity” (177). In terms of the development of the album as a social phenomenon in Spain, Leonardo Romero Tobar (Citation1990) presents a historical account of its links to the Romantic movement. There are studies on the literature depicting the album, including those by Valis (Citation2002) and Matthews (Citation2012). Scholars such as Miseres (Citation2018) and Palenque (Citation2019) have studied albums from archives in the Spanish-speaking world as representations of their female owners. Focusing on the contents of albums in the British context, Matthews’s (Citation2020) book is “the first full-length critical study and cultural history of Romantic album poetry” (4), and it also offers a comprehensive perspective of this practice’s roots in the eighteenth century.

My study on the nineteenth-century album joins this scholarly dialogue by proposing an approach to this phenomenon’s significance and evolution from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective. The album transitioned from being a fashion accessory and a social custom to becoming an archival manuscript and an art object today. Adding to those diverse functions, in this article I propose to examine the album as a social network that foresaw many of the dynamics we can identify in contemporary online platforms. Scholars have begun to point out the parallelisms between past and present technologies of communication. Good (Citation2013), for example, has proposed a comparison between scrapbooks and social media, focusing on the dual function of both as “personal media assemblages” and “personal media archives” (559). My proposal about the similarities between the album and today’s electronic sites goes beyond the existing scholarship because of the transnational archival work that informs my arguments. I analyze French and Spanish album literary contributions, exploring how they reveal the individual interests and goals of participants in this gender-driven trend. This effort allows for a reconstruction of multiple social and cultural nineteenth-century transactions. For this study I have selected six albums that offer proof of my claims about this practice. The focus of the selection is not nationality or language, but the ways in which the content of each album shows the intention to document different types of existing networks among owners and contributors. Five of the albums I analyze are Spanish and one is French. Additionally, five were owned by women and one by a man (this one I use to exemplify a transgression, as I will explain later).Footnote5 This selection process presents a challenge due to the rich diversity of albums housed in archives and the multiple interpretations their entries provide. Derrida suggests that the archive does not pose a question of the past, but “the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow” (Citation1995, 27). In my analysis of historical albums, I aim precisely to answer that question and to foster an understanding of the cyclical nature of communication dynamics through this early manifestation of social networking in France and Spain.

Discussions about how social media determines the way in which we present ourselves publicly and relate to one other are ubiquitous in contemporary society. We participate in online platforms with the understanding that we are crafting and selling an image of ourselves through our posts and reactions, and with the hope that that persona will be pleasing to, or elicit response from, our Facebook “friends” or Instagram “followers”. The goal is to grow the number that defines the extent of our public visibility and to receive from those in our networks “likes”, comments, or posts that reveal their affinities with us or exalt our attributes. While there exists the possibility of establishing affective and emotionally rewarding interactions on social media, there is also the need for mutual benefit in this process. In the same way that in one or two centuries researchers will be able to understand an array of facets of our twenty-first-century lives by analyzing our exchanges on social media, it is possible to explore multiple aspects of French and Spanish nineteenth-century societies by examining the album phenomenon. In that sense, the album could be considered a predecessor to today’s online social networks, as it promoted similar types of dynamics, albeit with more rigid gender roles. Here, I approach the album from the perspective of the attention economy, a contemporary notion that is applied to electronic sites and mass media. The theory of attention economy refers to the tendency to value attention in economic terms, transforming it into a type of currency. A person who is able to attract attention to their personal profile on a social network would be, according to this concept, more valuable than others in that virtual space. As Georg Franck points out, attention exists in an inescapable cycle, as “[n]othing seems to attract more attention than the accumulation of attention income” (Citation2019, 10). People who already enjoy attention can then capitalize on it and become more attractive to those who grant them views on a saturated platform. Although the essential principle of the attention economy suggests it could only materialize in the current mediatized world, Franck notes that “the capitalisation of attention income existed long before the media came into being” (Citation2019, 12). The impulse of humans to be noticed and admired is not a recent phenomenon. The nineteenth-century album fashion proves that the desire for attention existed in other types of communication technologies and reflected the idiosyncrasies of those societies. In the album, the attention seeker was usually the woman, who expected to collect the greatest number of laudatory contributions possible from renowned writers or artists. Interestingly, male contributors also craved attention in the album dynamic, as they implicitly competed with one another through their high-quality album entries which advanced their artistic status and allowed them to network. Valis accurately identifies the album as “narcissistic” and a “white screen of projected wish fulfillment” for both possessor and signer (Citation2002, 93). It is certainly important to acknowledge that album owners and contributors occupied different positions in society based on their gender. Therefore, the symbolic power that determined their participation in the album practice varied. This caveat does not contest the fact that the album phenomenon produced a bilateral attention economy from which both participants in the exchange benefited. In the following analysis I will focus on three categories that show the circulation of attention in the album trend: traditional contributions focused on the album owner and her moral and physical attributes (which sometimes became flirtatious), contributions dedicated to the owner’s husband or father, and meta-referential contributions that turned attention to the album practice itself. Despite the potential intersections among these categories, this approach provides an effective method for organizing and acknowledging the diversity of contributions.

An essential difference between the album and contemporary social networks is that access to the former was not as egalitarian as that of online platforms, which basically require only an internet connection and the opening of an account. For female album owners, participation in this trend implied, first, an economic investment, which restricted it to women who had the means to purchase the luxurious books. Once they acquired an album, women had to make a social investment by reaching out to their acquaintances and requesting entries for their collection. Thus, as I previously mentioned, the albums we have access to today, which we consider representative of this trend, were owned in the nineteenth century by the wives or daughters of men belonging to the literate professional classes, as these women regularly interacted with potential contributors in salons or at social gatherings. Through the album practice, they were able to register their existing networks and gather textual evidence to validate them. While in contemporary social networks there is a tendency to rank income in attention above money (Franck Citation2019, 9), in the case of the album it was necessary to have money in order to seek the attention. It is difficult to find biographical information about the owners of the albums still kept in archives beyond the specific fact that they were linked to important men of the time. The manner in which these women envisioned their participation in the album exchange, and the benefits they could obtain from it, is depicted in the literature that portrays this fashion. However, the literary texts that include albums as a plot element were written by men, which determines the gendered characterization of this phenomenon. In his essay on the album, Jouy declares that this fashion was invented “pour le bonheur d’un sexe et le désespoir de l’autre” (Citation1811, 145) [“for the happiness of one sex and the despair of the other”]. The quote that serves as the epigraph of this essay demonstrates how Jouy even mocks the act of requesting contributions, as he reproduces a woman’s voice in this process, “Ne ferez-vous rien pour mon Album, vous qui avez mis de si jolies choses sur l’Album de toutes ces dames?” (Citation1811, 149) [“Would you not do something for my Album, you who have put such beautiful things in the Album of all those ladies?”]. His satirical ventriloquism summarizes how most contributors conceived this exchange. Following his predecessor, Larra insists on the gender categorization of the album, stating that this object was a “mueble indispensable de una mujer de moda” and it represented “la desesperación del poeta” (Citation1835, 332) [“indispensable accessory of a fashionable woman”, “the despair of the [male] poet”].Footnote6 When I refer to “traditional” or “typical” album contributions or conventions, I am using as a reference the dynamics described by Jouy, Larra, and writers such as Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), José María de Pereda (1833–1906), and others in France and Spain who included albums in their fictional texts.Footnote7 I have found no first-person accounts by album owners describing how they conceptualized this trend. It is here that the study of historical albums becomes valuable in understanding the complementary goals and expectations of participants in this phenomenon. Beyond the parody of male-authored descriptions of the album, the analysis of the actual books allows us insight into the woman owner’s agency in the process of identifying contributors, requesting entries, and, thus, curating the collection that would represent her. The evidence suggests that for these women owning an album equated to an attempt to construct an identity beyond their links to the men who signified them in social circles. Albums offered women the opportunity to establish communication with potential contributors, develop a public presence, and gather entries that would narrate them/their stories. Understandably, this agency was a double-edged sword, and owners had to be strategic in their quest for entries.Footnote8 While in contemporary social networks the act of curating a page simply implies the click of a button to add or delete content, album dynamics required owners (and contributors, for that matter) to be much more premeditated in the process of self-creation and representation.

One of the most complete and emblematic albums I have consulted in my archival research in France Citationbelonged to Madame de Heredia (1848–1928), the wife of Parnassian poet, José-María de Heredia (1842–1905). Besides being a member of the Académie française, de Heredia was designated in 1901 as the librarian of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, which is precisely the archive that now holds his wife’s album. Madame de Heredia’s is the only French album that I analyze in this piece, as its numerous and diverse entries offer significant examples of the different categories I have proposed to explore and of a general album culture also present in Spanish sources. This collection, gathered in the mid-1870s, clearly shows the benefit of being married to a man well-connected in literary circles in order to identify contributors and compile a collection that would be preserved for posterity. Many of the prominent contributors in her album created traditional entries that focus on exalting Madame de Heredia’s attributes. This is the case of late-Romantic writer, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly (1808–1889), whose contribution shows an effort to fulfill her expectations and offer her the attention she was pursuing. Although brief, D’Aurevilly’s poem must have pleased Madame de Heredia, “Que vous dire, Madame, en cet album immense, / dont la grandeur ressemble à Vous? / pour vous offrir les vers que peut-être l’on pense / il les faudrait beaux comme Vous!” [“What can I tell you, Madame, in this immense album, / the greatness of which resembles your own? / to offer you the verses that maybe one thinks of / they would have to be beautiful like you”]Footnote9 (). The notion of “grandeur” has a dual function here of evoking the size of the book and Madame de Heredia’s moral superiority. Thus, the book becomes, according to D’Aurevilly, a metonymy of its owner. Kept at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris, Madame de Heredia’s is, indeed, a large album of 16.9 in. tall by 13.3 in. wide, with a striking cover and an impressive collection of more than seventy entries that reflects her husband’s links to the Parnassian poetry movement (). D’Aurevilly’s contribution is concise, not because Madame de Heredia fails to inspire more, but precisely because her beauty evokes outstanding verses that would perhaps require substantial time and effort to create. As a distinguished writer in this literary scene, it is understandable that D’Aurevilly would wish to conserve his energy for the creation of work that was economically and artistically profitable. However, he does accomplish the specific goal of praising the album owner and even goes beyond the act of writing verses by merging the literary effort with a visual one. D’Aurevilly combines red and gold ink and long strokes in some of the letters, which results in a visually remarkable entry that stands out in Madame de Heredia’s collection. The arrow symbol, common in nineteenth-century aesthetics, appears twice in the poem’s design. One arrow descends from above the poem, signaling the title/dedication, which is also the owner’s name. The second arrow, drawn in the left margin of the poem, signifies the entry’s value in Madame de Heredia’s collection through its solid golden ink.Footnote10 In his essay on the album, Larra reflects upon the conceptualization of this object as a metonymy of its owner, “¿qué es una bella sino un album, a cuyos pies todo el que pasa deposita su tributo de admiración?” (Citation1835, 332) [“what is a fair lady but an album, at whose feet everyone leaves their tribute of admiration?”]. D’Aurevilly basically answers Larra’s inquiry. As he grants Madame de Heredia the attention she sought through his literary/visual homage, he reiterates her inescapable link to the book. Although gendered, this notion of the album can be equated to how our social media pages represent us and invite others to celebrate our qualities.

Figure 1. D’Aurevilly’s contribution in Madame de Heredia’s album. Bibliothèque nationale de France. (Property of author)

Figure 1. D’Aurevilly’s contribution in Madame de Heredia’s album. Bibliothèque nationale de France. (Property of author)

Figure 2. Madame de Heredia’s album. Bibliothèque nationale de France. (Property of author)

Figure 2. Madame de Heredia’s album. Bibliothèque nationale de France. (Property of author)

Most traditional contributions I have discovered in albums are similar to D’Aurevilly’s in the sense that they remain on the border between respectful praise and excessive flattery, and from there grant attention to the owner. There are, however, exceptions to this tendency in entries that reveal an implicitly flirtatious tone that could be interpreted as a manifestation of the courting that sometimes took place in the album practice.Footnote11 It was common for contributors to recognize the married status of album owners, and to limit their entries to the deferential exchange that should be established with women who were unavailable sentimentally. Thus, the cases of contributors who transgressed the threshold of the respectful tribute were suspected of having a hidden agenda of seduction. An example of this is the 1838 contribution of politician Sebastián González Nandín (1808–1880) in CitationDolores Perinat de Pacheco’s album.Footnote12 Dolores (1813–1855) was married to nineteenth-century writer and politician Joaquín Francisco Pacheco (1808–1865), something that González Nandín certainly knew before writing in her album. In his poem, González Nandín addresses the Guadalquivir River, one of the longest in the Iberian Peninsula. After praising its beauty, its current, and the way it showers the walls of “great Seville”, González Nandín directly asks the Guadalquivir, “¿adorna tu ribera / otra Dolores Perinat … soltera?” (94) [“are your shores adorned / by another Dolores Perinat … single?”].Footnote13 Dolores and her husband lived in Seville, which explains why the Guadalquivir would know her and be able to answer this question. González Nandín finishes his entry by describing the physical effect that the mere idea of the existence of another, unmarried, Dolores has on him, “Quedo, al pensarlo, yerto, / ¡Ay de mi libertad, si fuera cierto!” (94) [“My body becomes rigid just thinking about it / Oh, my freedom, if this were true!”]. Having the river as his confidant, the poet implicitly acknowledges that this Dolores, the album owner, is not available. The duality of possible interpretations in this contribution inevitably evokes the mysteries contained in the archive. We could identify González Nandín’s entry as a manifestation of the mock-courtly motif, which the poet would utilize, in this case, to compliment Pacheco, a fellow politician. However, the impact that the existence of an identical Dolores who is not restricted by marriage would have on him seems to convey a desire beyond typical album praise.Footnote14 González Nandín could have complimented Dolores (and, by default, her husband) without having to wish for a fictional equivalent with whom he could openly flirt. It seems that in the album’s plays on words an audacious entry that walks the line between reality and fiction, such as González Nandín’s, was excused and justified as necessary in the owners’ and contributors’ attempt to generate attention.

The Citationalbum belonging to Joaquina Fernández del Pino y Tavira (n.d.), also known as the Vizcondesa de Solís, provides another example of the blurry frontier between compliment and courtship through the several contributions that refer to its owner’s mesmerizing black eyes. According to the literature that depicts the album phenomenon, it was common for contributors to read entries in an album, which they then attempted to surpass in artistry, either referring to previously praised attributes or identifying others that had not yet been written about.Footnote15 Notwithstanding this performative tendency, it would appear that in the case of the Vizcondesa, those eyes exalted by multiple contributors were, indeed, hypnotizing. In his 1847 contribution, writer and politician Antonio Cánovas del Castillo (1828–1897) pleaded to the Vizcondesa, “Doncella de negros ojos / la del mirar que cautiva, por Dios te ruego que apartes, / que apartes de mi la vista” [“Black-eyed maiden / the one with the captivating gaze, by God I beg you to avert / to avert from me your gaze”]. The use of the term “doncella” stands out in this entry, as it refers to a single woman, and specifically one who is a virgin. The Vizcondesa, however, was a mature woman married to Emilio de Alcaraz, Vizconde de Solís (?−1879). It seems like Cánovas del Castillo was more comfortable praising her if he could reimagine her civil status in his contribution. Similar to González Nandín, Cánovas del Castillo creates an alternative single woman in the album fiction, in order to avoid directly flirting with a married woman. Journalist and politician Dionisio López Roberts (1828–1898) coincides with Cánovas del Castillo regarding the Vizcondesa’s entrancing eyes in his contribution of a year later, and even condemns her as an “hechicera / la de abrasadores ojos” [“sorceress / the one with burning eyes”]. López Roberts's complaint includes a direct accusation to the Vizcondesa for rejecting his love and an acknowledgement of the effects of her contempt, “en mi candidez de niño / te di en prenda el corazón, / y al desdeñar mi cariño / me robaste una ilusión” [“in my childish naiveté / I gave you my heart as proof / and by rejecting my love / you stole hope from me”]. Along with the exaltation of the Vizcondesa’s physical beauty, which was expected in album entries, here we see a denunciation of her lack of sensibility towards an infantilized man who confessed his love to her. This combination of elements in the poem makes the motivation for this contribution quite intriguing. López Roberts’s declarations may have been merely a reaction to the Vizcondesa’s quest for attention or a fictional product of the praise game expected in the album practice. Yet, if we agree to interpret album exchanges as a reflection of reality, these verses could be read as an expression of heartbreak disguised as a contribution. The impossibility of deciphering the real intention behind this entry could be linked to what Derrida identifies as the “trouble” of the archive and what it represents, “the trouble of secrets, of plots, of clandestineness, of half-private, half-public conjurations” (Citation1995, 57). Albums available in archives present the problem of multiple meanings and force us to use what is included in them to arrive at conclusions about what is not. These complexities are precisely what makes the task of reconstructing the dynamics of communication and self-creation in the album practice fascinating. Nowadays, a suggestive post on a Facebook wall or a comment on a photo on Instagram may pose a similar challenge in our never-ending aspiration to elucidate meaning and discover other people’s secrets. Like our nineteenth-century homologues, that is the game in which we engage and the risk to which we expose ourselves as participants in social networks.

The authors of flirtatious or seductive contributions went beyond the original goal of the album trend by exceeding simple praise and sometimes ignoring the album owner’s marital status. Meanwhile, other contributors transgressed the rules of this practice by changing the addressee and writing entries that praised the owners’ husbands or fathers. I identify this as the second category of contributions, those that fleetingly mention the books’ owners, and instead focus on the men who often facilitated the process through their artistic and literary connections. These occasional violations altered the typical album dynamic and caused a shift in the attention awarded in contributions. As I previously pointed out, women who owned albums were usually linked to the cultural scene through husbands or fathers who were part of the bourgeois intelligentsia. Therefore, it is understandable that some contributors wanted to acknowledge those masculine figures who were behind the collection process, hoping to attract some attention to their own work. This would be especially beneficial for young or unknown writers who envisioned the album phenomenon as a platform to showcase their talent and establish networks that would prove useful to advance their career. However, as the contributions I present next prove, even well-known writers frequently resorted to this technique in their contributions. Highlighting the circular nature of the attention economy, Franck notes that “[a]ttention coming from people we admire is most precious”, while our own esteem for another person “depends to no small degree on the attention income this person receives from third parties” (Citation2019, 12). If in their entries contributors awarded attention to the men linked to album owners, they could certainly obtain attention back from those individuals, as it was expected that they read their wives’ and daughters’ albums. In these cases, album owners were relegated to a secondary role, as these men capitalized on the attention that women were supposed to obtain in the exchange.

As the wife of an important nineteenth-century poet, Madame de Heredia was doomed to have contributions in her album that focused on her husband rather than on her. This is the case of the entry by poet Philippe Dufour (1859–1935). By titling his contribution “à José-Maria de Heredia”, Dufour makes it clear that his focus will not be the album owner and, thus, that he will challenge the traditional expectations of this practice. As a courtesy, he does mention her in the dedication, specifying that the entry is a “respectueux hommage à Madame J.-M. de Heredia” [“respectful homage to Madame J.-M. de Heredia”]. Thus, the poem will not be about her, but it will be an indirect tribute to her for being the wife of the subject who inspired it. The first verses include a reference to de Heredia’s roots in Cuba, mythologizing the island and its colonial history in relation to his poetic talent, “Tu nous as rapporté de ton île éclatante / Chaud du sang du poète et du conquistador / Le souffle qui te vint de Délos et d’Endor” [“You have brought us, from your dazzling island / Warm from the blood of poet and conqueror / The breeze that comes to you from Delos and Endor”].Footnote16 Dufour continues the idealization of de Heredia by evoking heroes, nymphs, and gods, and exalting the poet’s verses as diamonds that vibrate with the splendor of his singing soul. The mythological imagery is reinforced in the third stanza with the mention of Apollo who, according to Dufour, invited de Heredia to “drink” and made him immortal. The last tercet constitutes the climax of his praise, presenting de Heredia as a laureate poet, “A tout jamais rayonne autour de tes trophées / Le vert laurier qui sur ton rêve irradia / Maître, ami glorieux, ô grand Heredia!” [“Forever and always shines around your trophies / The green laurel that on your dream irradiated / Master, glorious friend, oh great Heredia!”]. Remaining in the shadow of her husband’s trophies and poetic mastery, Madame de Heredia obtains from Dufour simply an entry to expand her album collection. Other than the indirect compliment inherent in the fact that she was able to obtain such an impressive mate, the exaltation of the owner that album contributions should include is absent in this poem. The length of this contribution deserves commentary. In my analysis of D’Aurevilly’s entry in this album I argued that its limited extension could have resulted from the poet’s intention to save his energy and inspiration for more lucrative literary endeavors. Dufour’s poem in the same collection, however, is four times the length of D’Aurevilly’s. There are two possible explanations for this significant difference. First, Dufour did not enjoy the same status as D’Aurevilly in the Parnassian literary movement, which likely pushed him to prove his talent via the creation of a longer entry.Footnote17 Related to this, perhaps the most accurate justification for the disparity in length between these two entries is the addressee. While D’Aurevilly describes Madame de Heredia, Dufour writes about and for José-Maria de Heredia. Thus, Dufour uses this opportunity to solidify his relationship with one of the most important members of the Parnassian movement by commending his poetic production. It would certainly have benefitted him to obtain some additional attention from the one he identifies as “master” and “friend”.

Some contributors were less direct in their attempt to network with the husband or father of the album owner and masked that intention behind limited praise to the woman. This is what writer Manuel Bretón de los Herreros (1796–1873) did in his 1839 contribution in Dolores Perinat de Pacheco’s album. His poem is a reflection on marital life, the value of which Bretón places above that of the political scene in which Dolores’s husband was involved. Bretón starts by acknowledging the public role of Joaquín Francisco Pacheco, while exalting his wife’s beauty, “Recuerdo en este instante, / bellísima Dolores, / que tu amable marido / es Diputado à Cortes” (96) [“I remember at this moment, / beautiful Dolores, / that your kind husband / is a Deputy to the Parliament”]. Pacheco, according to Bretón, is a great patriot, a “non-mediocre” orator, and honors the voters with his presence in Parliament. However, Pacheco’s highest achievement is not in the political arena; instead, “su mayor gloria funda / en tener tal consorte” (96) [“his major glory lies / in having such a consort”]. It is problematic that the album owner’s value is inherent to her role as a wife, as she does not seem to have any other outstanding social function to celebrate. Referring to his own experience, Bretón goes on to exalt the tranquility of marital life over the chaotic reality of the Parliament. The ending of his poem sums up this perspective, “Vale mas, y concluyo, / bellísima Dolores, / ser marido dichoso / que Diputado á Cortes” (97) [“It is worth more, and I conclude / beautiful Dolores, / to be a fortunate husband / than to be a Deputy to the Parliament”]. Bretón’s entry becomes a lesson for other men reading that album on the emptiness of the political scene and the fortune of being a satisfied husband. The attention that should have been focused on the album owner is redirected here to the masculine figure that signifies her, in the contributor’s attempt to connect with a powerful man in Spanish politics. Although it does not praise Dolores’s qualities, this entry conveys an indirect celebration of her talents as a housewife, since she has created a space of contentment for her husband in the home. This acknowledgement reduces her role to the domestic realm, even denying her the possibility of gathering for her album contributions that truly exalt her qualities.

In the case of entries that focus on the father figure, the refocused praise frequently highlighted the honor of having a daughter like the album owner. Although the expectation was that album owners would collect the contributions themselves (especially in the cases of adult women), it was not uncommon for famous men to request contributions on their daughters’ behalf. This inevitably created a prickly situation for potential contributors, as they had to acknowledge the intervention of these masculine figures in their entries. In her analysis of the albums belonging to the daughters of the Wordsworth circle poets, Matthews argues that in these cases the “powerful poet-father and his works become a second subject of and rival addressee in the daughter’s album poem” (Citation2020, 206). This could have happened in the case of Aurelia Picatoste (n.d.), but contributors employed other approaches to convey the intervention of her father, writer and journalist Felipe Picatoste (1834–1892), in her collection. In his 1886 contribution to CitationAurelia’s album, writer Antonio Grilo (1845–1906) refers to this triangular dynamic, while generously lauding the owner. From the way in which he describes Aurelia in this entry we can assume that she was still young and single, which differentiates her from other women I have presented in this piece and justifies her father’s mediation in the album exchanges. The first lines of Grilo’s stanza indicate that he is not the only contributor whose participation in that album is a result of Picatoste’s networks, “Con cuánta dicha inauguro / Estas páginas primeras / que por lo blancas acusan / La imagen de tu inocencia, / Los amigos de tu padre / Dejamos flores en ella” [“With what happiness I inaugurate / These first pages / whose whiteness reveals / The image of your innocence, / We, your father’s friends / Leave flowers upon them”]. Picatoste’s friends leave “flowers”/contributions in Aurelia’s album in an attempt to both exalt their friendship with him and praise her attributes. Accepting the privilege of being the first contributor to that album, Grilo emphasizes the whiteness of the book’s pages, an observation that responds to the tendency to link the physical condition of the album with the moral status of its owner. In his essay on the album, Larra presents this notion of the book as a material representation of its owner and the status of its pages as a signifier of her honor. He reminds his readers of the unequal distribution of roles in the album exchange by denouncing that all the inconveniences are imposed upon those responsible for “quitarle hoja a hoja la calidad de blanco” (Citation1835, 332) [“taking from it page by page the quality of whiteness”]. When Larra declares that each woman has only one album and men have many to which to contribute (Citation1835, 332), he is clearly insinuating that the album is a metonymy of the woman’s body, and that the dynamics of this practice reproduce gender stereotypes of the passivity of women and the promiscuity of men. This is not yet something to worry about in the case of Aurelia, as her album still reflects an innocence that can be celebrated by her father’s friends. Grilo continues disclosing the intervention of Picatoste in Aurelia’s collection, “Flores tu padre te busca / y él te guardará las perlas” [“Your father searches for flowers for you / and he will save you the pearls”]. This conveys the advantage that women whose husbands or fathers were well-known in the literary world had in the project of compiling an album collection. At the end of his poem, Grilo identifies Aurelia as her father’s muse, and adds that, “Tu padre tiene la dicha / de contemplarte tan bella, / y yo tengo otra ventura: / La de saber que eres buena!” [“Your father has the pleasure / of contemplating your beauty, / and I have another joy: / That of knowing that you are good!”]. Aurelia would certainly not stop being “good” once all of her father’s friends’ attention went to her in the form of contributions, thus staining her album’s pages.Footnote18 Although absurd, nineteenth-century male critics of the album imposed this parallelism between the object and female virtue. Equally inaccurate is the tendency in contemporary social networks to interpret the number and content of exchanges as a representation of the private life of a page’s owner.

One aspect of the album on which most nineteenth-century men seemed to agree is that this craze was unfair in terms of the artistic responsibility it imposed upon them. As I previously pointed out, French and Spanish essays on social customs convey this generalized idea of the strain that the continuous requests for contributions caused on men. According to this view of the album, women were the ones receiving all the joy from this trend, while men were merely subjected to the chore of having to please album owners who demanded entries.Footnote19 This understanding of a shared male suffering prompted the tendency to create meta-referential entries that sardonically mention the owner’s petitions, the process of creating the artwork, or the album phenomenon in general. Since men wanted to expose their disadvantaged position in this trend, these contributions present the male perspective, frequently focusing on their insecurities or humorously criticizing the album practice. According to the “rules” of this craze, contributors should create something original for the owner of the book, praising her physical traits or moral virtues. This alternative type of entry defies standard album dynamics, turning the attention to the album itself, thus creating a “stock exchange of attention capital” (Franck Citation2019, 13) similar to the one existing in contemporary networks. In my research, I identify these entries as their own category, and explore how they provide a behind-the-scenes look at this social exchange. Meta-referential contributions materialized the wordplay that took place in the album, as they aimed to convey a fictionalized version of contributors’ experiences through the literary creation. It is precisely because of their transgressive nature that meta-referential album entries offer us information essential to understanding this nineteenth-century trend and its manifestations.

Although signatures and identity are at the core of the album phenomenon and its social motivations, it is not uncommon to find anonymous contributions in the albums still existing in archives. While identifying an entry with a signature granted its author the possibility of acknowledgement for his artistic creation, anonymity gave him the freedom of expressing his fears regarding participation in the album trend. This is precisely the case of an anonymous contributor to Aurelia Picatoste’s album who directly mentions her father and reveals his apprehension that Picatoste may judge the quality of his poetic creation. In his entry, titled “¡En qué lío me has metido!” [“What a mess you have gotten me into!”], the author presents himself as a victim of Aurelia’s ambition to complete an album collection. He starts the poem by acknowledging that he could not compare himself to Aurelia’s father nor to other contributors in that album, “Siendo tu padre escritor / y habiendo aquí tantos vates / me falta Aurelia el valor / para junto a Campoamor / poner yo, mis disparates” [“Your father being a writer / and with so many bards here / I lack the courage, Aurelia / to along with Campoamor / put here my absurdities”]. There are many bards in Aurelia’s album that intimidate this contributor, but he specifically mentions Campoamor, a nineteenth-century conceptual and realist poet who had also contributed to the album I discovered at the antiquarian bookstore in Madrid. This reference makes the meta-referential nature of this contribution quite significant, as Campoamor is a recurrent figure in the albums I have consulted (). The anonymous contributor continues his diatribe accusing Aurelia of putting him in a disadvantaged situation and declaring that next to “Vega” (writer Ventura de la Vega, 1807–1865), “parezco sartén colgado / junto a un vestido de raso” [“I look like a frying pan hanging / next to a satin dress”]. It is impossible to ignore the contributor’s use of two feminine references to illustrate his position: a pan, which belongs to the domestic space, and a dress. Perhaps he thought that only through the use of these images would Aurelia be able to understand how traumatic the inferiority of his poetic ability was for him. The ending of the poem brings a humorous angle to the self-reflection about the act of writing, “si he de poner / aquí alguna cosa yo, / en prosa tiene que ser / que yo versos no sé hacer, / ni Cristo que lo fundó” [“If I must write / something here / in prose it must be / as I do not know how to write verses / absolutely not”]. The contributor writes in verse that he will only be able to add an entry in prose, since he cannot write in verse. This poem constitutes a sarcastic play with the temporality of the creation of the contribution and, in a true meta-fictional fashion, mockingly exaggerates the contributor’s qualms.

Figure 3. Campoamor’s signature in Mariana Paniagua’s album. Biblioteca del Museo del Romanticismo. (Property of author)

Figure 3. Campoamor’s signature in Mariana Paniagua’s album. Biblioteca del Museo del Romanticismo. (Property of author)

José Alcalá Galiano (1839–1919) was somewhat known in the nineteenth-century Spanish literary scene, and, yet, he seems to have had a similar reaction as that of the anonymous contributor in Aurelia’s album upon seeing the names of the writers who had already signed the one Citationbelonging to Mariana Paniagua (1838–1907) (). Like most album owners, Mariana was herself married to a writer, Eusebio Blasco y Soler (1844–1903), which guaranteed her contributions from other important literary figures of the time. In his contribution, dated 1877, Alcalá Galiano mentions some of these writers directly in order to validate the apprehension that overwhelms him when trying to create his poem. “Y que gente! … ”, he writes, “Campoamor, Zorrilla, Hartzenbusch, Ayala! / Cuanto sublime cantor! …  / Yo no paso, no señor / Yo me quedo en la antesala”Footnote20 [“And such people! …  / Campoamor, Zorrilla, Hartzenbusch, Ayala! / So many sublime poets! …  / I will not go on, no sir / I will stay in the antechamber”]. Mariana’s ability to include writers of the caliber of Campoamor, Zorrilla, and Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch (1806–1880) among the men who granted her album attention proves the superiority of her collection. Alcalá Galiano’s use of the notion of walking or passing and his mention of the antechamber suggest the physical movement that was required in the process of gathering contributions. The album acquires here a spatial quality that transforms it into a locus where contributors gathered and presented their texts, as they would have done in person. In this description, the album becomes a metaphor for the salon, typically used in the nineteenth century for artistic and literary encounters which certainly included album exchanges. If this had been a real salon, Alcalá Galiano would not have even entered, daunted by the ensemble of illustrious writers who were already there. In the album universe, he is willing to make the sacrifice for Mariana, “Mas porque sepas que he estado, / ya que á tu puerta he llegado, / Dejo aquí, pobre poeta, / Mi autógrafo tangente” [“But so you know I came, / because I got to your door, / I leave here, poor poet, / My tangential autograph”]. Alcalá Galiano’s entry may not be as valuable as that of the writers he mentioned before, but it is beneficial for him to take the risk of “entering” that album. As Franck notes, it is possible to “work one’s way up in the economy of attention just by persistently keeping at the heels of those who are better off” (Citation2019, 13). Alcalá Galiano pleases the female petition for a contribution, while hoping that his effort will lead to the networking that a successful album intervention should provide.

Figure 4. First page of Mariana Paniagua’s album. Biblioteca del Museo del Romanticismo. (Property of author)

Figure 4. First page of Mariana Paniagua’s album. Biblioteca del Museo del Romanticismo. (Property of author)

Besides giving contributors the possibility of expressing their concerns about the quality of their contributions, meta-referential entries frequently projected a sarcastic tone that allowed for a criticism of the album practice itself. In Madame de Heredia’s album, I discovered two brief meta-referential contributions that convey a rather humorous disparagement of this trend. From their length we can infer that the authors did not want to elaborate on their views of the album, perhaps because it was not useful for maintaining the personal relations that led to the entry requests. The first one is a concise comment by historian and politician, Gabriel Hanotaux (1853–1944), which provides the title of my article, “Il ne faut jamais rien écrire sur les albums” [“One should never write in albums”] (). It is understandable that Hanotaux, as a politician, was not inclined to write in albums, much less to create a long entry in verse to explain why it was not worth doing so. His aversion toward the album fashion is precisely what functions as the ideological basis of his contribution. By writing in an album, even though he should not do so, Hanotaux sums up the attitude of many contributors. The situation must have been different for the author of the second condemning contribution in Madame de Heredia’s album, poet Paul Valéry (1871–1945), since there was perhaps an expectation that he would be pleased to participate in this trend. Valéry’s meta-referential verses present the creative process and the author’s position, “Plus on écrit, moins on pense. / J’ai écrit” [“The more one writes, the less one thinks. / I wrote”] (). Almost violently succinct, Valéry’s contribution shows minimal effort, which, according to the internal logic of his own declaration, makes him a more rational contributor. This entry constitutes a critique of the tendency to view the creation of album contributions as a complicated and time-consuming task. Like Hanotaux’s, Valéry’s entry has a humorous tone that conveys a satirical approach to the album. Both contributors agree to participate in the album performance, yet they each create entries that challenge the continuation of this craze. Writing towards the end of the century, by which time the album was mainly viewed as an annoyance by contributors, it was inevitable for Hanotaux and Valéry to imply in their entries that this social practice had been granted more attention than it deserved.

Figure 5. Hanotaux’s contribution in Madame de Heredia’s album. Bibliothèque nationale de France. (Property of author)

Figure 5. Hanotaux’s contribution in Madame de Heredia’s album. Bibliothèque nationale de France. (Property of author)

Figure 6. Valéry’s contribution in Madame de Heredia’s album. Bibliothèque nationale de France. (Property of author)

Figure 6. Valéry’s contribution in Madame de Heredia’s album. Bibliothèque nationale de France. (Property of author)

The disparagement of the album practice in contributions was a transgression in terms of the content of the books, which were meant to celebrate female owners. Similar to those instances of defiance, some participants also challenged the gender norms of the album exchange. In those rare cases, women contributed their artistic creations to albums belonging to women or men (this last circumstance constituted a double infringement). The female contributors I have identified in albums were known writers and, thus, already had a public voice that authorized them to perform this role. Such is the case of Catalan poet María Josefa Massanés (1811–1887), who included a 120-verse poem in the Citationalbum belonging to Modesto Lloréns y Torres (1835–1921), one of the few male-owned albums I have discovered in my research. In her 1856 meta-referential entry, Massanés directly addresses the album, criticizes the dynamic of requesting contributions, and even mocks pedantic male contributors. Sarcastically titled “Los Albums” [“The Albums”] the poem includes in its second stanza a direct inquiry to the album, “¿Que quieres? que he de ofrecerte / Que te alcance á contentar?” (118) [“What do you want? What must I offer you / That could make you happy?”]. By questioning if she will be able to create something that pleases the album, Massanés is implicitly referring to the disrepute of owners, who seemed insatiable in their quest for entries that exalted their qualities. She continues addressing the album directly, and denounces it as being full of “adulaciones”, “falsedad”, “fingida ternura”, and “rebuscado dicho” (118) [“flatteries”, “falseness”, “feigned tenderness”, “affected expressions”]. For Massanés, the album conveys the hypocrisy that results from the contributors’ need to establish social connections and to prove their poetic ability. According to her, albums do not promote valuable literary production, but are a “suplicio del verdadero talento”, a “moda acosadora!” that she wishes would leave her alone and go down the same path where it came from (118) [“torture to true talent”, “harassing fashion”]. This meta-referential contribution presents a rejection of the album practice, not resulting from the contributor’s qualms about it, but representative of valid issues surrounding originality and artistic production. Massanés echoes the criticism of some male writers who questioned the creative gesture in this trend, thus displaying a solidarity that defies the gender divide. Although one could interpret this as a traditionalist attempt at acceptance into the masculine literary establishment, Massanés’s entry is still a transgression of the transgression, as she is a woman contributor writing about a topic other than the collection’s owner. As such, this contribution most certainly granted her attention from that album’s readers. Her condemnation of the album within an album is similar to that of people who denounce modern electronic platforms for collecting personal information and promoting the construction of fictional idyllic lives, yet do so, precisely, on their own social media pages.

The similarities between the album and contemporary social networks revolve mainly around the needs and goals of the individuals participating in these communication trends. There are, of course, differences between the two due to the social class requirements of the album and the online component of modern sites. Good points out that “[b]y no means … did the album amicorum or autograph album anticipate the level of social connectivity and surveillance currently afforded by websites like Facebook” (Citation2013, 563). However, we must acknowledge that both platforms aimed/aim ultimately to satisfy their users’ quest for attention. As the album contributions show, there existed in this phenomenon a circulation of attention between album owners, their fathers or husbands, and contributors, all of whom granted or received it at some point in the exchange. This overflow of attention ended up being redirected at the album as an object and social practice in meta-referential entries. The current availability of albums constitutes an invitation to grant them attention, to explore the nineteenth-century stories they offer, and to establish links with our own reality. This is precisely what happened to me at that antiquarian bookstore in Madrid with the costly album that briefly caught my attention. It is, however, in the space of the archive where we can perform an exhaustive study of albums that submerges us in their material and cultural complexities, including the factors that have determined their survival or disappearance. Derrida warns about the temptation to associate the archive “with repetition, and repetition with the past”, and clarifies that “the archive is an irreducible experience of the future” (Citation1995, 45). In a play on temporality, the archives that hold albums from the past constitute a permanent future in our present moment. They offer us access to books that contain invaluable historical information in contributions that reveal a web of artistic, economic, and gender transactions. As we consider the parallelisms between social networks, both in manuscript form and online, it is also essential to highlight the importance of transforming archival access to conform to modern technological evolution. The expansion of digital archives grants accessibility to historical documents beyond a specific physical space, allowing not only for their preservation, but also for their permanence in different formats. In the case of the album, this process has begun with the digitization of some of the books, making the contemporary study of this trend both an experience of the past and of the future. The exploration of the album facilitates the reconstruction of this practice’s relevance today and prompts a problematization of the evolution of mediated communication. My analysis of the album in nineteenth-century France and Spain aims precisely to foster a reflection about the way in which we approach historical documents by emphasizing these connections and proving this phenomenon’s importance as a predecessor of contemporary social networks.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).

Additional information


This work was supported by California State University, Long Beach (US) - College of Liberal Arts.

Notes on contributors

Jeannette Acevedo Rivera

Jeannette Acevedo Rivera is an Associate Professor of Spanish at California State University, Long Beach. Her academic formation consists of an MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, and a PhD from Duke University, with a specialization in French and Spanish nineteenth-century literature. She researches intersections among gender, material culture, fashion, and collection practices. In recent years she has focused on the nineteenth-century album phenomenon, which she explores as an archival object, literary subject, and feminized cultural practice. Her publications have appeared in Nineteenth Century Studies, Decimonónica, and Bulletin of Spanish Studies.


1 Album dynamics in other contexts were not always determined by these gender roles which defined men as creators and women as receivers. In the case of France and Spain, literary texts on the album portray this patriarchal division of responsibilities, and albums in archives generally confirm it. The cases of female-authored contributions and male-owned albums are thus fascinating deviations from this practice’s traditional norms. I include here one example of this type of transgression.

2 All translations of texts are my own.

3 In France, most of the albums I have consulted are at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, which is part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. I have also seen albums at the Association pour l’Autobiographie, the Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques-Doucet, the Musée de la Vie Romantique, and a private family collection. In Spain, I have consulted albums at the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the Biblioteca del Museo del Romanticismo, and the Biblioteca de la Fundación Lázaro Galdiano. In my extensive research, I have discovered very few contributions detached from albums.

4 Dunbar, Sánchez-Eppler, and Zebhur analyze manifestations of the “friendship album” in the United States that diverge from the type of album I study in terms of commonalities among participants, gender of contributors, and other aspects. I am unable to go into detail here about this particular variation of the album, but I acknowledge its importance to develop a broad understanding of this nineteenth-century phenomenon’s diversity.

5 Preliminary ideas about some of the albums analyzed here were included in my PhD dissertation, defended at Duke University in 2014.

6 In my article “Of Frivolous Female Collectors and Manipulative Male Contributors: The Depiction of the Nineteenth-Century Album in Essays on Social Customs” (Nineteenth Century Studies, Volume 29), I analyze in detail Jouy and Larra’s essays and problematize their stereotypical depiction of the album practice and proposals for controlling it.

7 Balzac depicted the album in La Muse du département (Citation1837) and Pereda did so in Pedro Sánchez (Citation1883). There are also theater plays that portray this practice. Among these are Manuel Bretón de los Herreros’s El poeta y la beneficiada. Comedia en dos actos (1838) and El cuarto de hora. Comedia en cinco actos (1848), and Henri de Meilhac’s L’autographe. Comédie en un acte (1858). Short stories that present this practice include Juan de Ariza’s “Historia de un album” (1847), Antonio Flores’s “Cuadro cincuenta y uno. Placeres de sobremesa” (1863), Juan López Valdemoro’s “El álbum” (1886), and Leopoldo Alas's [“Clarín”] “Album-abanico” (Citation1898). I am currently working on a larger project about the album that will include detailed analysis of these literary depictions of said phenomenon.

8 Matthews accurately describes the quandary of agency in album-keeping in her analysis of the books belonging to Lady Jersey (Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers, 1785–1867), “As soon as the manual act of writing is delegated, curatorial and editorial control is compromised; equally, it allows for content that is more interesting, prestigious, or creative than the owner could select or imagine” (Citation2020, 102).

9 All translations of contributions are my own.

10 The insertion of arrows and the use of red and gold ink seem to have been personal practices for D’Aurevilly, as other existing autographs and book dedications he penned include these elements. It is particularly interesting that he chose this symbol and colors to identify his writing. The arrow could be interpreted as evoking militaristic or defense endeavors, the figure of Cupid, or, more appropriately in this case, the quill pen that represented the act of writing. D’Aurevilly’s use of these individual signifiers in his contribution to Madame de Heredia’s album reveals a tacit agreement to be linked to the album practice.

11 The courting function is depicted in some literary texts that include the album as an essential plot element. I have specifically analyzed this topic in Balzac’s La Muse du département and Pereda’s Pedro Sánchez.

12 Though album contributions were not always dated, I include the dates of contributions in my analysis and the approximate inclusive dates of albums in the references in the cases in which they are available.

13 I indicate page numbers only for contributions from Dolores Perinat de Pacheco and Modesto Lloréns y Torres’s albums, since I am using an edited volume to quote them. I do not indicate page numbers for contributions that I quote directly from manuscripts, as albums were not originally numbered and, in some cases, the recent numbering of archivists is confusing.

14 In order to avoid misunderstandings, I refer to album owners by their first name and to their husbands or fathers by their last name.

15 When Pedro Sánchez, the protagonist of Pereda’s eponymous novel, receives the album to which he is expected to contribute, the first thing he does is to read previous entries. To his misfortune, Pedro discovers that Luz, the album owner, had already been extensively praised, “por los dientes, por los ojos, por el pelo, por el talle, por la voz y por cuanto a la vista estaba y mucho más” (Citation1883, 1478) [“for her teeth, for her eyes, for her hair, for her waist, for her voice and for everything that could be seen and a lot more”]. Acknowledging the limited traits and subjects available, Pedro selects Luz’s neck as the topic of his entry. This quasi-caricaturesque scene clearly conveys the essence of the album as a performative space.

16 Dufour’s use of these two references to islands from antiquity and the Bible to signify de Heredia’s island identity is no accident. While Delos is a Greek island linked to Apollo, mythological god of poetry, Endor is a biblical city that was thought to be the dwelling of a fortune-teller. Both places contribute to his depiction of de Heredia as a gifted poet.

17 Although Dufour is identified on the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France as a “Poète, membre du groupe parnassien”, he does not appear in lists of prime representatives of this movement [“Poet, member of the Parnassian group”]. Also, he started publishing in 1897, a bit later than the peak of the Parnasse.

18 Another example of an album belonging to the daughter of a writer is CitationEmma Bain-Boudonville’s, which I consulted at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Emma was the daughter of Victor-Joseph Étienne de Jouy, who had written about the album as a social practice in early nineteenth century. In this case there are no contributions referring to the honor of the album owner, perhaps because she was completing her collection as an already married woman (as her last name indicates). Emma is referred to as “Madame” and some of the contributions describe her as a wife and mother, thus, her moral condition was implied in these roles. There are also some references in her album to Jouy being her father, which makes for a very interesting reflection about the spaces in which the album circulated.

19 This view of the album as an anxiety-inducing exchange for men is not exclusive of the French and Spanish contexts. Matthews quotes English poet Thomas Westwood (1814–1888) in his portrayal of this trend as one that “suggests an excessive and pathological passion” and in which “[c]ontributors were ‘besieged’, the ‘entreaties’ for poems were ‘innumerable’” (Citation2020, 1).

20 In this entry there are missing exclamation points and, in the phrase, “Y que gente”, the “que” would require an accent mark. In my transcription of contributions, I respect the original spelling and punctuation.


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