- Moving Parts: The Life of Eighteenth-Century Interiors
Messages in code, petticoat hoop skirts, tie-on pockets, erotic cabinets, far-flung grottoes, ornamental dairies, and the gilded quarters of colonial parvenus in London: these interiors make up this special issue. Unlike the ancestral homes that have supplied our visions of eighteenth-century interiors—from the prison of Mr B’s Lincolnshire estate to the “lofty and handsome” rooms of Darcy’s Pemberley—the interiors here are move able, protean, and eminently malleable. And unlike the Gothic grandeur of Squire Allworthy’s Paradise Hall or the terror-ridden corridors of Udolpho, Otranto, and Mazzini, these interiors spring from fresh lineages and inventions, and belong more to the laws of imagination than to those of patrimony and history.
Novel rather than traditional, portable rather than fixed, contingent rather than central, transient rather than permanent, and adaptable rather than monolithic, the interiors in this issue move much more freely between the interior and the exterior than was imagined before. They reframe and even challenge customary ideas of the eighteenth-century interior as a domestic space. In the cases of Ariane Fennetaux’s pockets or Katherine Ellison’s coded epistles, for instance, the interiors emerge as things that one can hold in the hand and take outside the home. It is through their functions of carrying, concealing, and conveying other things, from sewing tools, miniature portraits, and books to secret information, that they become interior spaces. Their surfaces bear markings that promote legibility [End Page v] or disguise: either the decorative marks of cross-stitching and embroidery that identify the wearer, or the ciphers that conceal latent meaning. Thus ornamented and covered, these artifacts of interiority travel outward into the world—to be “out and about” with their owners, or released from their creators to reach a distant accomplice.
Such objects as tie-on pockets and coded documents represent only some of the ways in which this special issue marks a new direction in the designation of eighteenth-century interiors. Until recently, our notions of the eighteenth-century interior have conceived domestic architecture and ornamentation as its logical destination. Ian Watt’s Rise of the Novel and Nancy Armstrong’s Desire and Domestic Fiction, published thirty years apart, have reinforced this tendency.1 For Watt, the equivalence between “the delineation of domestic life and the private experience of the characters who belong to it” is almost an isomorphic one: “the two go together—we get inside their minds as well as inside their houses.”2 Armstrong, on the other hand, perceives domestic space not so much as an architectural analogue for “the private regions of the self,” but rather as a politically charged setting for the containment of female subjectivity.3 Whereas Watt views the walls of private households and the pages of novels as coextensive with the boundaries of the psyche—images indebted to John Locke’s conjuring of the mind as a room— Armstrong views them as continuous with the domestication of female agency. In other words, for Armstrong, “the female character and that of the home became one and the same.”4
The array of artifacts and spaces in this issue demonstrates that eighteenth-century interiors were far more variously realized constructs than has been suggested by the dominating example of the English country house. This is not to say that there are no homes or architectural interiors of the ruling class in this special issue, or that the interiors here do not mediate emerging notions of personal identity in diverse vocabularies— [End Page vi] psychological, political, sexual, or aesthetic. There are, and they do. Yet, the spaces in this issue share more similarities with the human protagonists who visit and eventually inhabit the traditionally imagined domestic settings than with the settings themselves. Much as Pamela Andrews, Elizabeth Bennet, and Tom Jones undergo experiences of transport and transformation—moving from positions external to the domestic centre to occupy the centre itself—so too do the continually evolving, migrating, or rein vented spaces of Meredith Martin’s ornamental dairies, Clara Tuite’s Irish absentee homes, and Maximillian Novak’s island grottos.
Martin’s “dairy queens,” those elite women who maintain...