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Title: Scripts, skirts, and stays : femininity and dress in fiction by German women writers, 1840-1910
Author: Nevin, Elodie
ISNI:       0000 0004 5362 911X
Awarding Body: Birkbeck (University of London)
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis examines the importance of sartorial detail in fiction by German women writers of the nineteenth century. Using a methodology based on Judith Butler’s gender theory, it examines how femininity is perceived and presented and argues that clothes are essential to female characterisation and both the perpetuation and breakdown of gender stereotypes. Based on extensive research into the history of dress including historical studies, fashion journals and conduct books, the thesis indicates how clothes were scripted for bourgeois women in nineteenth-century Germany. Women were expected both to observe the expensive dictates of fashion and to prove themselves morally superior. Arranged chronologically, this thesis analyses how this paradox is approached by female authors. It concludes that the revolutionary spirit of the 1840s was evident in the ways in which Louise Aston (1814-1871) and Fanny Lewald (1811-1889) portrayed dress, although both rely on sartorial traditions. ‘Natural’ beauty is at the centre of their characterisation, but the ‘natural’ is shown, not necessarily consciously on the part of the authors, to be an achievement. This is also true in the didactic works of Eugenie Marlitt (1825-1887) who surrounds her ‘natural’ protagonists with women who mis-perform their gender by dressing ostentatiously. Progressive writers at the end of the century are more direct in their treatment of the dress paradox. Such authors as Hedwig Dohm (1831-1919) and Frieda von Bülow (1857-1909), create heroines who feel vulnerable and awkward because of the pressure to be sexually attractive. This thesis concludes that dress is used in different ways to show how the dictates of fashion correspond to the dictates of patriarchal society; how sartorial details literally and metaphorically shape women; and how female writers accentuated the way dress functions as a means of oppression or attempted to overlook dress as a way of emphasising other feminine attributes.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available