Revolution and revealment
The Gothic body and the politics of décolletage
in Fashioning Gothic bodies
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In the last decade of the eighteenth century, women's clothing underwent a series of radical changes that costume historians often describe as comparably revolutionary to fashion as the French Revolution was to politics. Indeed the two were frequently connected in contemporary discourse, in which the moral debates over the proprieties and improprieties of female dress became part of a rhetoric of decolletage, deployed in political discussion. This discussion did not produce a unitary reading of the exposed female form, but rather mobilised a variety of meanings. In these meanings, women were alternately natural and artificial beings, victims and aggressors, appropriated for radical and conservative politics. The Gothic novel of the period participates in this discussion, and its heroines' bodies are fashioned by it. The preoccupation with revealment and concealment thus becomes a crux around which numerous political issues circulate.

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