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Title: 'Fashion in undress': Clothing and Commodity Culture in Household Words
Contributor(s): Waters, Catherine Mary (author)
Publication Date: 2007
Open Access: Yes
DOI: 10.3366/jvc.2006.12.1.26
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Abstract: In Little Dorrit, Dickens describes the motley group of 'nondescriptmessengers, go-betweens, and errand bearers' who congregate outsidethe Marshalsea prison each morning before the gates open in theseterms:"Such threadbare coats and trousers, such fusty gowns and shawls, suchsquashed hats and bonnets, such boots and shoes, such umbrellas andwalking sticks, never were seen in Rag Fair. All of them wore the cast-off clothes of other men and women, were made up of patches and pieces of other people’s individuality, and had no sartorial existence of their own proper."The miscellaneous clothing of the Marshalsea poor is marked by dis -possession in a way that thwarts the establishment of identity. Thehaphazard combination of patched and misshapen garments producesa scene of undifferentiated poverty. While Mrs Clennam’s worstedgloves and widow’s dress serve to express her cold and embittered selfhood– 'There was a smell of black dye in the airless room, which thefire had been drawing out of the crape and stuff of the widow’s dress for fifteen months' (27) – the marginality of the Marshalsea go-betweens s ironically emphasized by the fact that their clothing is so worn-out as to be beyond resale in the cast-off market. Not only do they lack a coherent ensemble, their garments are imbued with the traces of other lives, and their lack of 'sartorial existence' is a measure of their social occlusion. Dickens’s description assumes a continuity between clothing and identity as normative only to call that assumption into question as part of the narrative’s social critique.
Publication Type: Journal Article
Source of Publication: Journal of Victorian Culture, 12(1), p. 26-41
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Place of Publication: Edinburgh
ISSN: 1355-5502
Field of Research (FOR): 200503 British and Irish Literature
Peer Reviewed: Yes
HERDC Category Description: C1 Refereed Article in a Scholarly Journal
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