Undressing readerly anxieties: a study of clothing and accessories in short crime fiction 1841-1911

PhD Thesis


Hunt, A. 2019. Undressing readerly anxieties: a study of clothing and accessories in short crime fiction 1841-1911. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Humanities
AuthorsHunt, A.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification namePhD
Abstract

Dress changes the way that we, as readers, perceive and interpret characters within fiction because of the hugely subjective way that it influences individuals. We all have some experiences and opinions of dress because we have all been exposed to it in some way, whether consciously or unconsciously, and therefore the way that we read dress is fraught with ambiguity because our own experiences are so varied. Clothing functions as an indicator of gender, class, identity, aesthetic taste, fashion and social and economic success. It can sexualise and desexualise, entice and repel, reveal and conceal, lead and mislead and thus functions as a useful tool for writers to influence readers. Despite the instability of dress as a stable sign, writers make assumptions that readers understand what is being implied by dress and make conscious decisions to describe dress within their narratives.

In crime fiction, clothing is particularly useful because it allows hiding in plain sight: as an item so mundane it is barely noticed by the reader, yet it can function as compelling clue to reveal the identity of a criminal. There is a tension between what is obvious and what is implied and thus readers are both empowered and frustrated by depictions of clothing in crime fiction. Clothing is deployed by crime writers in a different way from other fiction because the genre encourages close reading in which every detail must count, familiar to readers through Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories yet also vital in a range of other texts discussed in this study such as the serialised adventures of C.L.Pirkis’s female detective Loveday Brooke and the escapades of Grant Allen’s master criminal Colonel Clay. This interdisciplinary study focuses on the anxieties generated by readings of dress in Victorian and Edwardian short crime fiction at a time when sartorial matters constituted a form of language in upper- and middle-class society. Considering short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, L.T. Meade, Guy Boothby, Baroness Orczy and George Sims alongside lesser known writers including Mrs George Corbett, Rodrigues Ottolengui and Mary Wilkins Freeman amongst others, this study examines visual, verbal and haptic considerations of dress to analyse how nineteenth and early twentieth century writers used clothing to enable and disable their readers.

KeywordsFashion; Crime fiction; Victorian literature; Edwardian literature; Clothing
Year2019
File
Supplemental file
File Access Level
Restricted
Publication process dates
Deposited08 Apr 2020
Permalink -

https://repository.canterbury.ac.uk/item/8v127/undressing-readerly-anxieties-a-study-of-clothing-and-accessories-in-short-crime-fiction-1841-1911

Download files

  • 57
    total views
  • 127
    total downloads
  • 2
    views this month
  • 13
    downloads this month

Export as