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“Clothes without Bodies: Objects, Humans, and the Marketplace in Eighteenth-Century It-Narratives and Trade Cards.”

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JournalEighteenth-Century Fiction
DatePublished - 2011
Issue number2
Volume23
Pages (from-to)347-80
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

While recent studies of the things of literature call attention to the narrative and psychological slippage between people and their possessions, this essay argues that rather than representing a loss for human agency, humans and things intermingle to the disadvantage of objects. I show how trade cards and object narratives engage with the same nexus of commercial culture, objects, and humans, and share a mutual resistance to "autonomous garments"—petticoats, shoes, gowns, and other garments depicted independently of the human form. Object narratives, read in tandem with trade cards, suggest that the growth of distance between persons and things, as opposed to their collapse into each other, constitutes a central narrative in the period's commodity culture and fiction. Object narratives, even as they transform coats, waistcoats, petticoats, slippers, and shoes into first-person narrators, actively work against the entanglement of human and material spheres. Together these genres place sartorial commodities under human control, emphasizing the human subject's agency over those items worn closest to the self.

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