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Gothic Cloth: Textures of the Unknown

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Victorian Surfaces in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture

Abstract

This chapter explores how clothing affects knowledge in Victorian society and how writers at both ends of the Victorian period engage with social conventions. Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby and Dombey and Son and Bram Stoker’s Dracula show how playing with the ambiguities of sartorial surfaces allows for different forms of (gothic) agency. With Mrs Pipchin’s bombasine garb, Dombey and Son creates an exaggeratedly Gothic character surface that both satirises Victorian class society’s blind reliance on dress codes and reflects on literary characters’ two-dimensionality. Stoker also taps into these codes and blurs the distinction between depth and the surface of clothing. Dracula goes even further when the narrative strategies of the text dismantle any attempt at creating knowledge.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Roffe is responding to a lecture that mocked “Where […] did the Ghost procure his Armour?” (qtd. in Roffe 1851, 21). A few years later, another ‘sceptic’ asked sneeringly: “how do you account for the ghosts’ clothes—are they ghosts, too?” (qtd. in Davies 2007, 33). The dress, and in particular the armour, of ghosts remains a topic of interest. See, for instance, Jacques Derrida’s discussion of the “visor effect” (2006, 7).

  2. 2.

    H. L. Malchow provides an in-depth account of the Gothic’s entanglement in questions of race with regard to the Victorian era in Gothic Images of Race in Nineteenth-Century Britain (1996).

  3. 3.

    “Dickens and Gothic: one of the great unwritten books of criticism,” John Bowen writes in “Charles Dickens and the Gothic,” which brings into focus the ubiquitous presence of Gothic elements in Dickens’ oeuvre (2020, 246).

  4. 4.

    Most memorable among these are perhaps the men of Saint Antoine in A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens 2000 [1859], 31).

  5. 5.

    Other specimens include Martin Chuzzlewit’s Mr Mould, or the “blind monster with 12 human legs” that is Mrs Joe’s funeral (Dickens 1999 [1861], 214).

  6. 6.

    Dickens later remembered the “grim and unsympathetic old personage of the female gender” who inspired the character of Mrs Pipchin to have been “dressed in black crape” rather than bombasine (“New Year’s Day,” Dickens 1997, 53).

  7. 7.

    When later in the same novel Mrs Skewton is afflicted with dementia, Dickens cannot refrain from having her comically mangle the Dombey pride by “confounding the names of her two sons-in-law, the living and the deceased; and in general, called Mr Dombey, either ‘Grangeby,’ or ‘Domber’” (Dickens 1974 [1848], 546).

  8. 8.

    William Makepeace Thackeray to Mrs Brookfield, 4 May 1849.

  9. 9.

    The Gothic mood was frequently used to depict the effect of capitalism on Victorian society (see Bowen 2020 and Houston 2005).

  10. 10.

    For a detailed discussion of the haunting in Cock Lane and its reception by the public, see Davies (2007, 81).

  11. 11.

    On Dickens’ enthusiasm for Gothic dilapidation, see Pritchard (1991, 439).

  12. 12.

    For additional information, see Meier (2002) and Senf (1998).

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Correspondence to Cordula Lemke .

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Jochem, S.C., Lemke, C. (2021). Gothic Cloth: Textures of the Unknown. In: Baumbach, S., Ratheiser, U. (eds) Victorian Surfaces in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture. Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-75397-9_8

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