Strategies of Emulation and Embodiment: Life Imagining and the Fashionable Novel 1825-1840
This presentation will explore the relationship between social aspiration and the unstable biographical literary energies of the Regency period. The body of the British, post-Napoleonic gentleman was shaped by emerging fashion media and popular literary genres of the period. I will focus particularly on ‘life-imagining texts’, which created allure or aversion in readers as a means of managing embourgeoisement. Along with fashion magazines, two main works of fiction will be examined. After discussing how biographical formulations can help us to understand the fiction and media from this period I will turn to Edward Bulwer Lytton’s Pelham (1828), an example of fashionable fiction, or ‘silver-fork novels’. This genre told of the social climbing pursuits and consumption practices of often thinly disguised, real-life figures. The second text will be Samuel Warren’s Diary of a Late Physician (1837) a fictional medical memoir that also centres on fashionable life. Drawing methods from social theory and literary analysis, I aim to explore Regency/Victorian emulation, self-presentation, and also the construction of whiteness through the depiction of the suit or the afflicted body. I seek to explore the social role of popular fiction and the way in which it created hyperreal narratives that had an impact on the body. I aim to provide a critical close-reading of excerpts of these examples and how they engage with the broader culture to create new biographical formations that consolidate fashioned identity and status within a time of social and economic change.
Respondent: Julia Hoydis (Cologne)