Of Victorian Interest

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Of Victorian Interest

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CFP: Political and Sartorial Styles in Britain and its Colonies, 1859-1914 (9/15/2016; 7/15/2017)

Political and Sartorial Styles in Britain and its Colonies, 1859-1914

Essays are sought for a proposed collection exploring the links between Victorian political sartorial style and metaphors and analogies of clothing in political thought of the period.

When Walter Bagehot, the mid-Victorian journalist and Liberal economic advisor, wanted to explain changes in the operations of parliamentary government that had resulted in contentment among his contemporaries, he resorted to a sartorial metaphor. “Thirty years ago,” Bagehot writes in The English Constitution, “the nation had outgrown its institutions, and was cramped by them. It was a man in the clothes of a boy; every limb wanted more room, and every garment to be fresh made.” Similarly, John Morley, one of Britain’s premier politicians and John Stuart Mill’s leading disciple, analogized political change to dress in his study of Diderot and the French philosophes. “Form of government is like the fashion of a man’s clothes; it may fret or may comfort him,” Morley writes, “may be imposing or mean, may react upon his spirits to elate or depress them.” The liberal political theorist Herbert Spencer saw even more direct links between attire and political ideology: “Whoever has studied the physiognomy of political meetings, cannot fail to have remarked a connection between democratic opinions and peculiarities of costume.” All three men also happened to be known for their apparel.

This proposed essay collection—for which expressions of interest and abstracts are sought—starts with the premise that looking at clothing is a productive means of understanding other forms of political style. Its objective is twofold. Through analyses of metaphors and analogies in political novels, treatises, and other written and visual texts, it seeks to document the role of clothing in the Victorian political imagination. Through the study of historical personages or fictional characters, it also aims to explore the ways in which clothes either defined and displayed political identities or conversely symbolized the state of objectivity to which liberalizing individuals in this period aspired.

Proposals are invited for essays (approximately 10,000 words). Topics might include but are not limited to: dress in political novels; metaphors and analogies in key works of political thought; portraiture, caricature, and photographs of political thinkers and leaders; sartorial unremarkableness (“I hold that gentleman to be the best dressed whose dress no one observes,” Anthony Trollope once remarked) and sartorial eccentricity (“primly neat but quaintly unconventional garments,” as Herbert Spencer was described); disinterestedness and detachment in bodily comportment and dress; politics, sociability, and dress (clubland); accessories (the Gladstone bag, the Primrose League pin, the pocket watch); and attire and professional consciousness within British liberal culture.

If you are interested in contributing, please send a 250 word proposal and CV by September 15, 2016. Those papers selected for inclusion will be due July 15, 2017. Several publishers have expressed interest in the project. Queries and abstracts should be submitted to Kevin A. Morrison at kmorri05@syr.edu.

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