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The dandy novel as fashion text: Edward Bulwer Lytton’s Pelham (1828) and fashion editorial.

Mahawatte, Royce (2019) The dandy novel as fashion text: Edward Bulwer Lytton’s Pelham (1828) and fashion editorial. In: Fashion and Material Culture in Victorian Fiction and Periodicals. Edward Everett Root Publishers, London. ISBN 978-1912224692

Type of Research: Book Section
Creators: Mahawatte, Royce

The presence of fashion in fiction is often overlooked in traditional studies of English Literature but it holds an important place in the development of the nineteenth-century novel. In fact, novels themselves were fashionable items so it is no surprise that they would come to depict ‘the fashionable world’ of the Regency period. This chapter will introduce some approaches to the study of fashion in nineteenth-century fiction in order to discuss Pelham, or the Adventures of a Gentleman (1828) by Edward Bulwer Lytton as an example of ‘a fashion text’, which had a lasting effect on the Victorian idea of the male body.
In this novel, the fashioned male body is an index of bourgeois modernity. When appropriately attired, Henry Pelham, the protagonist, becomes socially mobile. The combination of different genres and bodies (fashioned or anti-social) make the novel a key counterpoint for the understanding of Victorian modernity. Bulwer himself became a notorious literary celebrity at the time and it was assumed that Henry Pelham was based on the author himself. Pelham marked the end to the styles worn by Beau Brummel and heralded a more understated menswear that followed the natural line of the body. The establishment of Henry’s ‘classic’ style arguably takes precedent over the narrative itself. The novel articulates the fashion concepts of newness, obsolescence, body discipline and public taste, all as aids to social mobility. It is a narrative of fashion theory, and Pelham is actually a novel that in both content and promotion strategies become a highly fashionable text. It is not surprising, then, that Pelham demonstrated contemporary anxieties about popular fiction and material culture. Thomas Carlyle’s objections in Sartor Resartus (1833-4) present the language of the novel as being retrograde. This chapter will argue that this so-called retrograde element was an important part of the development of the novel as it emulated and parodied the voice of fashion journalism that was already in existence.
After explaining the genre and some relevant theoretical elements from the study of fashion, I will focus on Chapter 48 of the second edition of the novel. Here the story pauses and the reader is presented with twenty-two maxims designed to educate the reader in contemporary sartorial codes. I will place the maxims against fashion editorial from the periodical Gentleman's Magazine of Fashions, Fancy Costumes and the Regimentals of the Army and will give a close reading of the two as I explore the relationships between them. In both instances, the body, masculinity, taste, effeminacy and race are all discussed in the construction of the male fashioned body. To supplement the discussion I will also comment on the critical reception of the novel, both in the mainstream literary press and also in the fashion press, where the novel was reviewed in markedly different ways. There is an unusual relationship between fiction and fashion editorial in post-Napoleonic society, which contributes to what Winifred Hughes calls the ‘radical instability of tone’ in the novel.

Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Edward Everett Root Publishers
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Central Saint Martins
Date: 30 April 2019
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2017 10:51
Last Modified: 29 Jul 2019 14:22
Item ID: 11139
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/11139

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