Description: A story goes that Fryderyk Chopin’s heart was smuggled from Paris to Warsaw in a jar of cognac by his sister, Ludwika, in the weeks following his death on 17 October 1849. The rest of Chopin’s body, we know for sure, was buried at the cemetery of Père Lachaise in Paris, the city where he lived for the last nineteen years of his life. The heart, in its jar, remained in Warsaw, apart from a brief evacuation during the Second World War. It is still there, the amber liquid preserving it in a remarkable state of health for a one hundred and sixty five-year old heart.
Two aspects may excite the curiosity of scholars of European Romanticism: the heart itself, and the notion of home. Firstly, it is the story of the place the heart held in Romantic symbolic thought and its role in artistic creation. Secondly, the homecoming of the heart raises questions about home, nation, and belonging in the context of death. The object’s journey from France to Poland complicates ideas about Romanticism and national identity. Already at the time of Chopin’s death, rumours and conflicting accounts of the heart abounded. The difficulty of establishing the facts that led to the heart’s removal from Chopin’s corpse and its arrival in Warsaw reflects the heart’s status as a mythical object. What does the popularity of this story tell us about Romantic ideas about home, belonging, fatherland, illness, death, and love?
Description: Purchased on 22 November 1869 for the 50th birthday of the novelist George Eliot by her partner George Henry Lewes, this Broadwood piano was delivered to a grieving household. Lewes’s middle son, Thornfield, had returned from farming in Africa with a painful illness and had died, aged 25, just a month previously. It was a period when neither Eliot, who was writing Middlemarch, nor Lewes, were able to work. That the piano was purchased then, indicates that it represented something of deep significance. Not surprisingly, no flurry of references to the new piano fills Eliot’s correspondence at this date. Fittingly however, the piano has an implied presence as a source of solace a decade later when, on the first anniversary of Lewes’s own death, a line in Eliot’s diary for 8 Sept 1879 reads simply: ‘Darwin. Schubert’ (Journals, 180). ‘Darwin’ may denote a visitor, or his books; Schubert she must have been playing at the piano. Eliot’s journal further records that she had ‘Touched the piano for the first time’ after Lewes’ death on 27th May (Journals, 175). This piano is, however, representative not just of the personal importance for George Eliot of Romantic music but of its significance for numerous areas of Victorian culture in Britain.