Designing Women: The Dressing Room in Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture (Paperback)
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Dressing rooms, introduced into English domestic architecture during the seventeenth century, provided elite women with unprecedented private space at home and in so doing, promised them equally unprecedented autonomy by providing a space for self-fashioning, eroticism, and contemplation. Tita Chico’s Designing Women argues that the dressing room becomes a powerful metaphor in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature. While satirists—such as Dryden, François Bruys, Gay, Wortley Montagu, John Breval, Elizabeth Thomas, Pope, and Swift—attack the lady’s dressing room as a site of individual and social degradation, domestic novelists—including Richardson, Lennox, Burney, Goldsmith, Austen, and Edgeworth—celebrate it as a space for moral, social, and personal amelioration.
As a symbol of both progressive and retrograde versions of femininity, the dressing room trope in eighteenth-century literature redefines the gendered constitution of private spaces, and offers a corrective to our literary history of generic influence and development between satire and the novel.
About the Author
TITA CHICO is a professor of English and faculty director of the Center for Literary and Comparative Studies at the University of Maryland in College Park. She is the author of, most recently, The Experimental Imagination: Literary Knowledge and Science in the British Enlightenment, as well as the forthcoming, On Wonder.
“In this eloquent and sophisticated book, Tita Chico elucidates the multiple and changing significations of the dressing room in eighteenth-century satirical writing and the domestic novel. In doing so, Chico draws on, and rewardingly complicates, a rich and influential body of work on gender and satire, as well as recent scholarship on space, domestic architecture and eighteenth-century literature."
— Eighteenth-Century Book Reviews Online
“[A] lively and sophisticated account of one of the most visible and provocative places in eighteenth century English culture, the lady’s dressing room. More than simply an exposition of the dressing room’s broad significance in a single historical moment, Tita Chico’s study shows how the meaning and functions of the dressing room change through history.”
— Eighteenth-Century Fiction
“In showing us the dense, complicated, and flexible trope of the dressing room, Chico has demonstrated that representations of women through space invests their bodies—and their selves—with a number of potential associations. In real houses the dressing room was a flexible space which allowed for both women’s autonomy and containment. In literature too, the dressing room is a place where women have been objectified, but also where women have been given the independence to become authentically themselves.”
— Eighteenth-Century Studies
“Her study is articulate, well-grounded, and thoughtfully argued.”