The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden


Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 119 b&w photographs, 15 duotone plates Published: August 1999

Author: Carol Mavor

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Photography, Cultural Studies

Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden (1822–1865) produced over eight hundred photographs during her all-too-brief life. Most of these were portraits of her adolescent daughters. By whisking away the furniture and bric-a-brac common in scenes of upper-class homes of the Victorian period, Lady Hawarden transformed the sitting room of her London residence into a photographic studio—a private space for taking surprising photos of her daughters in fancy dress. In Carol Mavor’s hands, these pictures become windows into Victorian culture, eroticism, mother-daughter relationships, and intimacy.
With drama, wit, and verve, Lady Hawarden’s girls, becoming women, entwine each other, their mirrored reflections and select feminine objects (an Indian traveling cabinet, a Gothic-style desk, a shell-covered box) as homoerotic partners. The resulting mise-en-scène is secretive, private, delicious, and arguably queer—a girltopia ripe with maternality and adolescent flirtation, as touching as it is erotic. Luxuriating in the photographs’ interpretive possibilities, Mavor makes illuminating connections between Hawarden and other artists and writers, including Vermeer, Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Lewis Carroll, and twentieth-century photographers Sally Mann and Francesca Woodman. Weaving psychoanalytic theory and other photographic analyses into her work, Mavor contemplates the experience of the photograph and considers the relationship of Hawarden’s works to the concept of the female fetish, to voyeurism, mirrors and lenses, and twins and doubling. Under the spell of Roland Barthes, Mavor’s voice unveils the peculiarities of the erotic in Lady Hawarden’s images through a writerly approach that remembers and rewrites adolescence as sustained desire.
In turn autobiographical, theoretical, historical, and analytical, Mavor’s study caresses these mysteriously ripped and scissored images into fables of sapphic love and the real magic of photography.


“[Mavor] offers her reader impressionistic, wide-ranging, and often highly personal interpretations of the photographs.” — Diane Waggoner, CAA Reviews

“[T]here is an insight here for everyone from the formalist art historian to the queer theorist, as Mavor’s writing weaves an intricate web of allusion and association.” — Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Art Book

“By revealing her own personal stories and understandings, Mavor continually forces the reader into a personal participation with the ideas and images presented, [and] disaljows passive consumption of the highly charged images.” — Lambda Book Report

“Carol Mavor uses Clementina’s life and art as a starting place to explore concepts of family and sexuality. . . . Becoming raises questions of intimacy and offers more questions than easy answers. The answers, it seems, are up to you.” — Bay Area Reporter

“Certain photographs, by virtue of composition, light, or subject, have the ability to draw a viewer into another world, to make one yearn for intimate knowledge of the photographer and the subject, to cause a kind of minor obsession of seeing, where simple viewing is never enough. The elegant and enigmatic photographs of Clementina, Vicountess Hawarden (1822–1865) possess this power, especially for Carol Mavor, whose passionate writing about the Victorian socialite’s private work illuminates more than just a single important woman photographer whom history has overlooked. It also addresses a myriad of intermingled issues that the photographs invoke: gender, motherhood, sexuality, loss, illusion, and fetish. . . . Combining autobiography with scholarly study, Mavor is unflinchingly honest in describing how these images affect her . . . . Even when delving into how Hawarden can be compared to Vermeer or Lewis Carroll, Mavor maintains a gripping and breathless tone, inviting the reader into her beautiful compulsion and unveiling the gorgeous nuances behind Hawarden’s portraits.” — Foreword Reviews

“Mavor is persuasive in arguing for the homosocial nature, eroticism, and ambiguity of many of the photographs. . . .” — Carole G. Silver, Visual Anthropology Review

“Mavor is unmistakably the right person to write about Hawarden. . . . Her writing comes from the heart. . . . Becoming does two things well: it situates Hawarden’s studio in its social epoch, and it translates her oeuvre into contemporary language.” — New Art Examiner

“Mavor pursues some intriguing paths in attempting to elucidate Hawarden’s photographs. She is smart on the topic of teendom (just one of the ‘becomings’ of her title), and how it can surface not merely in the embrace of subject matter but in actual approach: adopting the unpredictability of adolescence can be an asset for adult photographers. Mavor also draws illuminating connections between the stereoscope and pornography, probes the nature of the family photo . . . and has a real flair for evoking and elucidating individual images, for helping us to envision the deep meaning she’s admirably seeking.” — Village Voice

“Mavor raises crucial questions about the use and affective response to photographs as biographical ‘data,’ and their evocative power to portray both the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’ figures and time of their surface images: the need to examine biographical themes like adolescence; and the complex and often unexamined set of relations between the biographer’s subjectivity and her biographical subject.” — Julie F. Codell, Biography

“To those accustomed to the detached tone of the academic monograph, Carol Mavor’s stance in Becoming will seem daring. From the effusive acknowledgements onwards, the author thrusts herself to the front, so that her particular appreciation of what she studies becomes both subject and critical method.” — Lindsay Duguid, TLS

“The author’s perspectives on Victorian and contemporary issues of intimacy, exhibition, maternity, sexuality, just to name a few of the themes in play here, open up new perspectives for the reader, who thus feels inspired to stop and dream for a while, hoping to do so as acutely and as inventively as Mavor does.” — Joseph Litvak, author of Strange Gourmets: Theory, Sophistication, and the Novel

Handsomely written and carefully researched, this book will have large appeal. It is a real treasure—indeed, unforgettable.” — Richard Howard


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Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carol Mavor is Associate Professor of Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Pleasures Taken: Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Preface: “Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell”

An Erotic Note

A Queer Note

Introduction: Adolescent Reverie

Reduplicative Desires

“In Which the Story Pauses a Little”

Sapphic Narcissa

Collecting Loss


List of Illustrations


Works Cited

Index 211

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2389-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2355-6
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