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Tables and chairs

I’ve become obsessed with tables and chairs lately, particularly tables and chairs  as they appear in images of Charles Stratton, Lavinia Warren, and other dwarf (or little person) performers of the nineteenth century. Now tables and chairs are rather common furniture items and figure prominently in nineteenth century portrait photography, especially photographs of middle-class families, wherein wives stand behind seated husbands or children gather round seated parents. But there is something quite distinct about the tables and chairs that appear (or perform?) alongside Charles Stratton and co., in that the performers never sit on the chairs or at the tables, as one might expect, but rather stand beside or on top of them.

The point of this arrangement seems obvious: the chair or table acts as a kind of foil for the performer, a verification of the performer’s diminutive status. Simply put – they are indicators of scale. But as someone interested in the relationship between objects and humans, I’m inclined to think that scale is just part of it. The more I look at these images, the more I’m convinced that the prominent placement of the tables and chairs also has something to do with the performance of middle-class respectability, familial relations, and communal ties, as well as perceptions of labour and leisure. I’m spending time now reading up on Victorian furniture and the place of tables and chairs  within the Victorian cultural imaginary in an effort to peel back other layers of meaning…

Is it ironic that as I contemplate these matters I’m sitting down on an uncomfortable (how very Victorian!) chair while writing on a table (albeit on a laptop)?