Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Scopus Web of Science® Altmetric
Type: Theses
Title: Double threads: reading dress, fashion, narrative and representations of femininity in Victorian popular literature
Author: Seys, Madeleine Claire
Issue Date: 2015
School/Discipline: School of Humanities
Abstract: In “Clothes: From the Novelist’s Point of View” (1886), Deliverance Dingle states that contemporary novelists have “a genius of taste, and can express a character or indicate a mood by the very colour and texture of a garment, by the play of folds and the sweep of the train of a robe” (266). Taking this statement as its foundation, Double Threads: Reading Dress, Fashion, Narrative and Representations of Femininity in Victorian Popular Literature explores the use of dress to fashion femininity and female sexuality and to tell the heroine’s story in British popular literature from 1860 to 1900. The heroines of Victorian popular literature are women in white muslins, femmes fatales or aesthetes in silks and velvets, women in paisley shawls, New Women in grey, and cross-dressing and rational-dressing politicians and writers. Dress sites the heroine within fashion history and in relation to Victorian notions of femininity and female sexuality; it also provides the means to refashion them. Double Threads argues that dress functions within structures of characterisation and narration, and the politics and poetics of representation and genre, in telling the heroine’s story. It examines the sartorial, material, narrative, literary and fashionable threads of Victorian popular literature and their interweaving in representations of the heroine. This thesis is structured by a chronology of fashions in dress and literature from 1860 to 1900. It traces changes in the colour, texture and style of the heroine’s dress from white muslin, silk and velvet, and the paisley shawl, to wool and tweed, and cross-dressing and rational-dressing in a selection of popular novels and genres from sensation fiction to social realism, the New Woman novel and feminist utopian fiction. Each chapter draws on the histories of sartorial cloths and styles, as material and literary objects, in contextualising their use and refashioning in popular literature. Recent scholarship in Victorian literature has treated dress as realist social symbolism. Double Threads is the first study to consider the ways in which changes in the colour, texture and styles of dress function to tell the heroine’s story in a narrative and representational, as well as a social, sense in Victorian popular literature. The colours and texture of dress represent its use as realist detail, fashion-plate jargon, artistic and sensual detail, expression of individual character, disguise, socio-political and sexual symbol, and metaphor for types of representation. This thesis draws on the double meaning of thread, as both material and narrative, and of fashion, as both a style and a method for its alteration, in its reading of dress and popular literature. Through this reading, Victorian popular literature is reconceptualised as both a literary style and critical category. It is understood as fashionable literature in the style of the time, and fashioned literature, self-consciously engaging with the means of its own production and consumption. This invites a critical reading which considers the politics and poetics of representation and reading, and is conscious of the ways which the ‘popular’ is constructed and represented in literary history and criticism. This is the first study to consider the significance of the materiality and history of sartorial cloths and styles in informing the use of dress in Victorian popular literature; in this way, it provides a model for thinking about the production of dress as a metaphor for the textual construction of femininity and narrative. Drawing on threads of scholarship from fashion and textile history, cultural studies and literary criticism, this study expands the ways in which we interpret different types of cultural artefacts, suggesting a form of reading which explores the materiality of texts and the textuality of material cloth, the fashioned-ness of fiction, and the fiction of fashion.
Advisor: Treagus, Mandy
Kerr, Heather Beviss
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2015.
Keywords: Victorian
popular literature
female sexuality
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
DOI: 10.25909/5b3d8a0e47fff
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
01front.pdf344.92 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
02whole.pdf1.66 MBAdobe PDFView/Open
PermissionsLibrary staff access only335.04 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
RestrictedLibrary staff access only1.73 MBAdobe PDFView/Open

Items in DSpace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.