Victorian Gothic fiction traces the complex paths between madness, self-presentation, and consumerism, representing all three in terms of a Gothicised subjectivity fashioned from clothes. Self-presentation became an essential element of social advancement and tied into discourses of self-help. The notion of concealment is a vital element of selfhood in the Victorian period. It is the process of concealment that is of importance to Victorian self-fashioning and not what is actually being hidden. Clothing plays a more complex role than a mere 'disguise' for an implicitly 'true' identity or 'deeper' emotions. Attention to dress played a small but significant part in discussions of madness. Under the broader doctrine of moral management, it could provide a means both of identifying insanity and of treating it. The practice of a kind of moral management through clothing by female characters is a frequent feature in novels of the 1860s and 1870s.
The doppelganger or double is a frequently noted feature of Gothic fiction. The key critical text to theorise male doubles in Gothic literature is Eve Sedgwick's Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca sets the blueprint for the twentieth-century novel of the female double. Emma Tennant's novella The Bad Sister is a rewrite of Confessions of a Justified Sinner from the perspective of a female protagonist. In Rebecca, The Bad Sister and Single White Female, clothing provides a primary mechanism through which the exploration of the doppelganger theme is produced. Single White Female is saturated with fashion discourse. The film's title implicitly suggests the threat of the double to the construct of the 'single' woman, a historically specific category of femininity brought into being by magazines like Cosmopolitan.
At the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, both Gothic literature and the history and theory of fashion have achieved increasing prominence within academic discourse. They have been reinstated from marginal disciplines to vital and important areas of intellectual enquiry. The emphasis on the surface in Gothic narratives can also be related to the emergence of the sensibility now known as camp. Judith Halberstam's contribution is most significant in her gesture towards the Gothic body as a kind of patchwork entity, stitched together from fragments and scraps of discourse. The concentration on fashion 'technologies', or 'techniques of fashioning the body' inspired by Michel Foucault's work, has enabled fashion theorists to evade the conventional dichotomies of primitive and civilised, natural and artificial which have plagued the constructions of dress.
This book investigates the functioning of Gothic clothing as a discursive mechanism in the production of Gothic bodies. It presents the debates surrounding the fashion for decolletage during and immediately following the French Revolution, linking these discourses with the exposure of women's bodies in Gothic fiction. The popularisation of the chemise-dress by Marie Antoinette, and the subsequent revival of the classical shift by the women of the Directory, inflected the representation of female Gothic bodies in this period with political rhetoric. The book examines the function of clothing in early to mid-Victorian Gothic. It suggests that the Gothic trappings of veil and disguise take on new resonance in the literature of the period, acquiring a material specificity and an association with discourses of secrecy and madness. The book also investigates a nexus of connections between dandies, female-to-male crossdressing, and monstrosity. It then traces the development of the female doppelganger in the twentieth century, according to the ideologies of femininity implicated in contemporary women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan. In a world where women are encouraged to aspire towards an ideal version of themselves, articulated through fashion and lifestyle choices, the 'single' girl is represented as a problematically double entity in Gothic texts. The book examines the revival of Gothic style in the fashions of the 1990s. Gothic fashion is constantly revisited by the trope of the undead, and is continually undergoing a 'revival', despite the fact that according to popular perception it has never really died in the first place.
Dandies, cross-dressers and freaks in late-Victorian Gothic
This chapter focuses on two personae in the Victorian period as having particular relevance for Gothic fiction: the dandy and the cross-dressed or 'manly' woman. It explores the twentieth-century understanding of the relationship between dandies and freaks. Dandyism was an important influence on Gothic even when not directly represented within it, as its emphasis on the surface embodied in the charismatic, amoral male crystallises many of the genre's pre-existing characteristics. James I. Walpole's camp nostalgia, which led him to affect elaborate archaisms in his dress as well as collect kitsch antiquities, can be thought of as an antecedent of Aestheticism if not necessarily of dandyism proper. Dandyism and female cross-dressing, connected through their parallel negotiations with existing gender roles, constitute the specific fashion technologies through which the Gothic surface is articulated. Nevertheless, not only gender but also class and colonialism are implicated in the attendant narratives.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book provides some historical contextualisation for the presentation of clothing in Gothic fiction. The nature of this exercise makes it difficult to draw any overriding conclusions about the function of clothing within the genre. Fashion discourses tend to defy any kind of totalising narrative, characteristically resisting closure in their endless preoccupation with recycling the past. The body in Gothic fictions is a profoundly unstable concept: continually evoked, nevertheless it is always disappearing beneath the mask or the veil. The process of bodily refashioning through Gothic fictions shows no sign of diminishing. The chapter illustrates the perennial power Gothic bodies possess to fashion themselves anew, replaying the preoccupation with surface and depth, using the example of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
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.
This chapter untangles some of the ways in which Goth style has permeated contemporary Gothic discourses, from the vampire fiction of Brite and Rice to the representation of Goth girls in teen movies. It foregrounds the dialectic between individual participants in the subculture and representations of Goth in a variety of media, from fashion journalism to fiction. The chapter explores the kind of critical investments made in contemporary depictions of Goth, in particular constructions of the subculture as middle-class, 'Taking it', and gendered feminine. It also examines the recycling of Goth style in mainstream fashion and haute couture, questioning why throughout the 1990s, the Gothic look always seemed to be coming back. Towards the end of the twentieth century, the critical discourses surrounding Gothic demonstrated a shift away from psychoanalytical modes towards historicism. In doing so, these discourses exhibited a heightened self-consciousness about the processes of critical and textual production.