At the Mercy of Their Clothes: Modernism, the Middlebrow, and British Garment Culture

Hardcover | November 29, 2016

byCelia Marshik

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In much of modern fiction, it is the clothes that make the character. Garments embody personal and national histories. They convey wealth, status, aspiration, and morality (or a lack thereof). They suggest where characters have been and where they might be headed, as well as whether or not they are aware of their fate. At the Mercy of Their Clothes explores the agency of fashion in modern literature, its reflection of new relations between people and things, and its embodiment of a rapidly changing society confronted by war and cultural and economic upheaval. In some cases, people need garments to realize themselves. In other cases, the clothes control the person who wears them.

Celia Marshik's study combines close readings of modernist and middlebrow works, a history of Britain in the early twentieth century, and the insights of thing theory. She focuses on four distinct categories of modern clothing: the evening gown, the mackintosh, the fancy dress costume, and secondhand attire. In their use of these clothes, we see authors negotiate shifting gender roles, weigh the value of individuality during national conflict, work through mortality, and depict changing class structures. Marshik's dynamic comparisons put Ulysses in conversation with Rebecca, Punch cartoons, articles in Vogue, and letters from consumers, illuminating opinions about specific garments and a widespread anxiety that people were no more than what they wore. Throughout her readings, Marshik emphasizes the persistent animation of clothing-and objectification of individuals-in early-twentieth-century literature and society. She argues that while artists and intellectuals celebrated the ability of modern individuals to remake themselves, a range of literary works and popular publications points to a lingering anxiety about how political, social, and economic conditions continued to constrain the individual.

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In much of modern fiction, it is the clothes that make the character. Garments embody personal and national histories. They convey wealth, status, aspiration, and morality (or a lack thereof). They suggest where characters have been and where they might be headed, as well as whether or not they are aware of their fate. At the Mercy of...

Celia Marshik is professor of English at Stony Brook University. She is the author of British Modernism and Censorship (2006) and the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Culture (2014).

other books by Celia Marshik

The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Culture
The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Culture

Kobo ebook|Oct 27 2014

$22.29 online$28.87list price(save 22%)
British Modernism and Censorship
British Modernism and Censorship

Hardcover|Jul 31 2006

$114.95

Format:HardcoverDimensions:264 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.98 inPublished:November 29, 2016Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231175043

ISBN - 13:9780231175043

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsAcknowledgmentsIntroduction: At the Mercy of Their Clothes1. What Do Women Want? At the Mercy of the Evening Gown2. Wearable Memorials: Into and Out of the Trenches with the Modern Mac3. Aspiration to the Extraordinary: Materializing the Subject Through Fancy Dress4. Serialized Selves: Style, Identity, and the Problem of the Used GarmentCoda: Precious ClothingNotesBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

Clothes are dangerous. Instead of presenting dress as a form of self-expression, Marshik reveals its power to diminish, imperil and undo the modern self. In this highly original and exciting book, she ranges from Ulysses to the Sunday Pictorial, from Mrs. Dalloway to The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, demonstrating the potentiality of garments across modernist, middlebrow and popular cultures in Britain. A superb achievement.