Fabricating identities : dress in American realist novels, 1880-1925

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Carolyn L. Mathews (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Kelley Griffith

Abstract: The vital connection between self and the clothed body forms the basis for this study of representative American realist novels set during the decades spanning the years 1875 to 1925. American social history of these decades is marked both by the swelling of a middle class defined through respectability and by the emergence of a consumer culture that promised through its proliferation of images and commodities that the "good life" was within the reach of all. This history sets the scene for these literary works. In examining female characters' attempts to construct selves outfitted for this new social order, I argue that in these characters' quests to move beyond the domestic sphere, a model for social change emerges. Through focusing on novelists' descriptions of clothing and through mapping out the cultural grid that brings symbolic meaning to these descriptions, this study aims toward recreating what Mikhail Bakhtin called "the social atmosphere of the word." A complex weave of cultural meanings is illuminated through attention to dress and to the social backdrop against which it etches its fashion statement. Unravelling the "living dialogic threads" weaving themselves around images of draped and bustled skirts, gigot sleeves, or serpentine teagowns, a reader can begin to expose the warp of social class and gender expectations integral to selfhood and examine the emerging constructions of the female self.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 1996
Costume in literature
American fiction $y 19th century
American fiction $y 20th century
Realism in literature

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