Title

Fashion, France, and the Politics of form

Document Type

Article

Date of Original Version

9-1-2017

Abstract

Formalism, as an interpretive mode, speaks as much to the social as it does to the aesthetic dimensions of culture. With this recognition has come a reminder of just how politically implicated the handling of forms can be. The mid-nineteenth-century American playwright Anna Cora Mowatt needed no such reminding. Mowatt’s popular drama Fashion (1845) addresses a politics of cultural exchange, as expressed in the contemporary preference of an aspirational class of urban Americans for a French fashion sense. Theorists often ascribe forms with liberatory potential, but the fashions that inform Mowatt’s work represent a revealing instance of forms having mastered their makers. By dramatizing a satirical entanglement of the cultural and sartorial, Mowatt speaks to the continuing potential (in her own day, as in ours) of the formal to problematize the making of meaning.

Publication Title

Arizona Quarterly

Volume

73

Issue

3

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