Donna Bilak’s review of Frances Larson’s An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World (Oxford UP, 2009) points to an interesting contradiction in Larson’s book — is it a biography of the collection or of the collector?
Larson’s explicit intent is to write “a biography of this gargantuan, amorphous, ethnographic collection”, but in practice , Bilak claims, the structure and content of the book puts Wellcome rather than his collection in the center.
Oxford University Press tries to solve the problem on the book’s website, when writing that “An Infinity of Things tells the story of the greatest private collection ever made, and the life of the man behind it”.
But can you have it both ways? Or do you, as Bilak, suggests, have to make a choice. Either the story of the collection or the story of the collector will have to frame the content and structure of the narrative.