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The dolls' dressmaker re(ad)dressed: Jenny Wren's Critique of Childhood, Femininity and Appearance

Moore, Ben 2016. The dolls' dressmaker re(ad)dressed: Jenny Wren's Critique of Childhood, Femininity and Appearance. Victorian Literature and Culture 44 (3) , pp. 473-490. 10.1017/S1060150316000103

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This article discusses Jenny Wren, the “dolls’ dressmaker” of Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (1865), as a figure of social and philosophical critique. Jenny’s indeterminate identity, as both corrupted and divine, is analysed in light of her job as a maker of dresses for the dolls of the wealthy. Along with her production of dresses, it is argued, Jenny produces parodies of childhood, adulthood, femininity and fashion, revealing apparently fixed identities (adult, child, angel, devil, doll) to be mere forms of appearance rather than transcendent truths. She shows that divinity and devilishness are not essential components of childhood but dependent on the context in which children develop, undermining polarized “Romantic” and “Evangelical” views of childhood. The article draws on Professor Teufelsdröckh’s “philosophy of clothes” in Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1833-34), and Walter Benjamin’s writings on fashion, to argue that Jenny offers a “philosophy of dolls,” which is disruptive to language and to the realist novel, splitting signifier and signified apart and unsettling conventional meanings.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISSN: 1060-1503
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2017 05:19

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