Story of this Library

Honore Daumier, ‘The trouble with grooming’

Le Charivari, November 14, 1844

Wear them

We usually think of books and newspapers as things we absorb mentally, but in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, they could often end up on rather than in people’s heads. To achieve the fashionable curly haired look, men and women needed yards of paper, which they then tore into strips and rolled up, or folded and heated with tongs. As this illustration shows, the mixture of heat and paper didn’t always work.

Writers from Richard Sheridan to Charles Dickens joked that their masterpieces might end up in bits. Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy nearly loses a manuscript of his poems in somebody’s hair-do, while one Victorian heroine rips up her husband’s prayer books to get the latest look.

To find out more, try Leah Price’s How To Do Things With Books in Victorian Britain (Princeton, 2012) or Sophie Ratcliffe’s ‘The Art of Curling Up: Charles Dickens and the Feeling of Curl Papers’ in Paraphernalia! (Routledge, forthcoming 2018).

Discover more about What People do with Books