By Chloe Schama
Theresa’s temporary home in Edinburgh, 12 Randolph Road (I was staying at 39 Randolph Avenue), was covered in scaffolding when I visited it for the first time. The house was clearly in a state of overhaul: dust covered the windows and paint flaked from its walls. There were paint cans and brushes clustered together on the stoop and a ladder leaning against the front of the house. Weeds flourished in the garden.
One of the construction workers eyed me with justified curiosity as I stood looking at the house. There was no National Heritage blue-circle signifying historical landmark status posted above the door; no one else was snapping photos. But I was certain that I had found a treasure.
When I stumbled upon this story in the library, I was immediately convinced that I had found the type of history that the hallowed halls of legendary landmarks tend to silence – the type that lingers in letters and haunts street corners, the type that is too often forgotten, but provides the most intimate, personal portrait of the past.
As Walter Benjamin said, “to articulate the past historically, does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it was’ … it means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.” There is always a danger that the less obviously and traditionally important, prominent, and powerful individuals will be left out of the history of human experience. In this inadequate surveillance of the past, the human affections that bridge history are lost.
Chloe Schama has written for the New Republic, the New York Sun, and the Guardian. She lives in Washington, D.C. Her first book, Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman, is the biography of Theresa Yelverton. (released March 2010).
IMAGES: Edinburgh, England
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Nancy, Mystica, Urbano, and Suzanne.
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