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Bodkin Aesthetics: Small Things in the Eighteenth Century

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Publication details

JournalEighteenth-Century Fiction
DateAccepted/In press - 12 Jul 2018
DatePublished (current) - 21 Jan 2019
Issue number2
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to)271-294
Original languageEnglish


This essay juxtaposes extant bodkins (and their ornamental cases) with textual depictions in order to uncover the significance of scale to material fictions in the eighteenth century. I argue that the bodkin, a large needle, articulates the key role of the small (as opposed to the miniature) to the period's cultural imagination and aesthetics. The bodkin was an ordinary tool, an accessory that was instrumental to several trades and to getting dressed. Its flexible set of functions in trade and at the dressing table made it both a useful and unstable object. The bodkin possessed the capacity to puncture textiles, paper, and skin, and to stitch materials back together again. Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock (1714) illuminates the slippery meanings and functions of the bodkin, engaging this small object's rich literary and cultural heritage that stretches back to antiquity. I link the bodkin's mutability to feminine violence, charting how women can transform even the smallest of things into weapons of self-defence.

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