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Title:Shopping for Pleasure: The Fashion Lover in Victorian Fiction
Author(s):Alexander, Sarah
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Garrett, Peter
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, English
Abstract:For much of the Victorian period, the love of fashion was dismissed as a distinctly feminine vice, an unworthy distraction from domestic responsibilities. This dissertation uncovers the ways in which several nineteenth-century female novelists advocated for personal happiness (specifically, the pleasures offered by fashion) in a way that many True Womanhood devotees did not. While these novelists' appreciation for pleasure is steeped in the sense that such pleasure transgresses normative codes of femininity and of morality---very few of the fashion lovers examined in the following chapters get away with placing desire before duty---their stories of blissfully self-absorbed, self-indulgent women make the pleasures of fashion available to readers. In offering readers the pleasure of watching fashionistas take autoerotically charged delight in material goods, these writers also offer an alternative to a moral code that urges duty, self-effacement, and altruism to the exclusion of self-focused expression, desire, and pleasure. Incorporating the work of fashion historians, as well as nineteenth-century fashion periodicals, this project examines fictional fashion lovers whose pursuit of autoerotic pleasure offers a satisfying alternative to normative modes of femininity even as it enacts and complicates the Victorians' ambivalence about fashion and its relationship to motherhood, consumerism, and proto-feminism. Moving from mid-century corseting controversies and the emergence of a consumer culture to the dress reform movement, the study suggests that the definitions of fashion's transgressive pleasures shifted over the course of the Victorian period: as the century drew to a close, the anti-fashion vanguard (who had long blamed fashion for undermining woman's "natural" commitment to domestic matters) expanded to include proto-feminists who regarded fashion as an obstacle to their campaign for social and political equality. The fact that the novelists examined here rely on those shifting definitions to pass varying degrees of judgment on the pleasures of fashion (even as they uncover and make those pleasures available) illustrates the highly mutable nature of the relationship between fashion and feminism.
Issue Date:2008
Description:172 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI3314718
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:2008

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