Threads of Identity: Fashion, Finery, and Performance in Ellen Wood’s East Lynne and Wilkie Collins’s No Name

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Abstract

As Polonius tells his son in Hamlet, “the apparel oft proclaims the man” (I.iii.72). This article takes this idea and re-situates it within the sartorial and cultural contexts of the mid-nineteenth century in order to examine the construction and performance of identity in Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (1861) and Wilkie Collins’s No Name (1862). This article draws, in particular, on Mariana Valverde’s 1989 examination of what she terms the “ideology of finery” – a distinctly class-based notion that plays on anxieties that surrounded the blurring of class lines as fashion became increasingly democratised as the Victorian era progressed. This article argues that the use of “finery” as a pejorative term throughout East Lynne has an intrinsic effect upon how the contemporary readers’ responses to Barbara Hare and Isabel Carlyle were shaped. This idea of “finery” also appears in No Name, as Magdalen Vanstone’s scepticism and cynicism regarding sartorially-defined class distinctions is contrasted with her maid Louisa’s horror at the prospect of wearing a silk gown. Ultimately, this article examines how fashion – the manipulation thereof, its class-based connotations, and its ability to shape character – is inherent to the narratives of East Lynne and No Name.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-123
Number of pages14
JournalVictorian Popular Fictions
Volume5
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 05 Jul 2023

Keywords

  • Ellen Wood
  • Wilkie Collins
  • class
  • dress
  • fashion
  • finery
  • identity
  • performance
  • sartorial signification
  • sensation fiction

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