Royce Mahawatte (DPhil Oxford) is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London. His research interests are Victorian fiction, the Gothic and cultures of fashion and the white raced body. He is currently working on a monograph about the fashioned male body and Victorian writing of which his work at the Morphomata Centre will form part.
Strategies of emulation and embodiment: life imagining, society portraits and the fashionable novel 1825-1840
This project 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 embourgeoisment. Along with fashion magazines, three works of fiction will be examined: Robert Plumer Ward’s »Tremaine« (1825) and Edward Bulwer Lytton’s »Pelham« (1828). These are examples of fashionable fiction, or ›silver-fork novels,‹ a genre that told of the social climbing pursuits and consumption practices of often thinly disguised, real-life figures. The third 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, especially through the depiction of the suit or the afflicted body. I seek to explore the social role of popular fiction. During the course of the Fellowship, I will produce one theoretical/methodological essay on modes of life-imagining and the way in which it creates hyperreal narratives that have an impact on the body. The main piece of research will be a critical close-reading 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.