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Fashionably Late: Queer Temporality and the Restoration Fop

From: Comparative Drama
Volume 47, Number 1, Spring 2013
pp. 85-111 | 10.1353/cdr.2013.0009

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To date, the majority of studies on the Restoration and early eighteenth-century fop have argued that the character's most important cultural work is the way in which he queers gender. Since 1982, when Robert Heilman, Susan Staves, and Richard Brown began theorizing the fop's gender, such readings have proliferated. Staves was the first to decry staging trends that portray him through an effeminate gay stereotype, an anti-effeminate reading that was developed further in the work of Kristina Straub, Michèle Cohen, Philip Carter, and professional actor Simon Callow throughout the 1990s. As scholars began sifting through the subtle categories comprising Restoration and early eighteenth-century sexuality and gender roles, it became clear that the fop was too slippery for straightforward categorization. As George Haggerty concedes, "the Sir Foplings of the world do not fit easily into a gendered economy." Though these studies have been valuable as a whole, they ultimately depend on upholding the very "gendered economy" they critique in order to argue for the fop's significant social role in Restoration culture. Twenty-first-century readings have begun to sidestep the fop's sexuality and gender role, using him instead to explore the development of public and private spheres in the early eighteenth century. Yet for Thomas King, "foppery is still queerness." But if queerness is a "positionality vis-à-vis the normative," queerness is always constructed in relation to something else. This opens up the definition of the fop in a way that neither excludes nor privileges gender.

It is important to consider alternative ways in which the fop's queerness might be relative to the normative. As I argue in this essay, rather than queering gender, the fop actually queers time. In this way, fops need not be gendered by definition, nor do they have to be men. As Judith Halberstam (a.k.a. Jack Halberstam) suggests in a rubric for theorizing queer time: "[m]uch of the contemporary theory seeking to disconnect queerness from an essential definition of homosexuality has focused upon queer space and queer sexual practices, but such theories depend, implicitly, upon a rarely articulated notion of queer time." She continues to separate queer time from sexual identity: "By articulating and elaborating a concept of queer time, I suggest new ways of understanding the nonnormative behaviors that have clear but not essential relations to gay and lesbian subjects." These "clear but not essential" connections provide an opportunity for the Restoration and early eighteenth-century fop to move beyond readings that depend on gender without discrediting these approaches. If the fop's queerness is located in his or her engagement with time, then the fop can speak to important cultural issues beyond gender alone, including but not limited to a variety of temporally dictated constructs such as social participation, evolving economic systems, family obligations, and the interplay between work and leisure.

By saying that the Restoration fop queers time, and not gender, I mean to define the fop in a new way, distinct from definitions that champion his gender play, his flamboyance, his ego, his Frenchification, or his role as a comic figure. I argue instead that the Restoration fop can be more comprehensively defined by his queer engagement with time, and specifically what I call his fashionable lateness. Although the phrase "fashionably late" became popular to the point of cliché in the nineteenth century, I find it useful in the way it playfully merges fashionability and temporality, thus mirroring the behavior of the fop. As I define it, to be fashionably late is to arrive notably after an agreed upon time, but to do so with such éclat that the social faux pas is forgiven, even celebrated. Fashionable lateness is a habitual mode of social entrance. By arriving late, the fop purchases social exception, excusing the tardy individual from obligations to which his prompt acquaintances are held. The Restoration fop's fashionable lateness is an aggressive performance of nonchalance that allows an individual to manipulate the very social contracts otherwise central to Restoration and early eighteenth-century culture. In theory, queer time always communes with alternative social behavior and contracts. Elizabeth Freeman asserts that "queer temporalities, visible in the forms of...



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