Of Gaps and Gossip: Intimacy in the Archive

Katrin Horn 1
  • 1 Universität Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany
Katrin Horn


Arguing for gossip’s relevance in the archive, this article examines the surviving private material relating to Charlotte Cushman (1816–1876). Cushman was the most celebrated American actress of the nineteenth century yet spent most of her life in an expatriate community in Rome, where she shared her home with other female artists. Analysing letters, diaries, and related forms of life writing by Cushman herself as well as by friends and family, this article pursues two goals: First, it accounts for how a fear of gossip (by Cushman and her family) might have shaped the gaps in the collection concerning Cushman’s sexual and romantic relationships. Second, it makes the case for the archival traces of gossip as evidence in writing the story of Cushman’s intimate life. The article thus reflects on the role of gossip and privacy in “intimate archives” (Dever et al. 2010) and contemplates their relevance to Cushman as an insightful case study of LGBTQ history. Overall, this article advocates turning to the archive with a renewed fervour for evidence of intimacy as well as for turning to intimacy for evidence.

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