Awful Beauty's Arms: Women, Fashion Accessories, and Politics in British Literature, 1688-1832

Fleming, Kelly, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wall, Cynthia, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Pasanek, Brad, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Fraiman, Susan, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

“Awful Beauty’s Arms” is a literary history of British women’s political participation in the long eighteenth century. Using recent historical research on women’s political activity, I explore how the contradiction of women’s simultaneous inclusion in political culture and exclusion from political institutions is recorded in the novel. I uncover representations of women political actors who, in spite of their secondary and subordinate political status, make their participation both visible and vibrant by wearing fashionable ornaments in acts of protest, party affiliation, and patriotism. I show how these representations of women’s political accessories evoke the lived experience of being “accessory" to another person’s political status, the condition of Britain’s disenfranchised majority. I argue that the novel imitates, at the level of description, the metonymic representation accorded to women by the system of virtual representation underpinning British political institutions. I consider the modern consequences of this early modern contradiction by drawing connections between women’s political accessories from the eighteenth through twenty-first centuries.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
eighteenth-century British literature, British novel, women's history, accessories
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