- Outward Appearances: The Female Exterior in Restoration London
Will Pritchard’s Outward Appearances: The Female Exterior in Restoration London is a compelling and original study of the interaction between the male gaze and the female [End Page 50] body. He describes the book as an analysis of “how men viewed women in Restoration London” (15), and he offers a combination of theoretical premises and case studies to illustrate his points about female appearance and visibility. The book is well organized: Pritchard immediately defines the terms of his argument in his introduction, and he builds his analysis of female display in three spaces (the playhouse, the park, and the new exchange) on a historically-grounded, cogently argued foundation related to what he terms the problem and promise of “female legibility.”
In his introduction, Pritchard indicates that he has used the phrase “outward appearances” to invoke a double meaning. He refers both to women’s physical appearance and to the “growing tolerance” about women making appearances in spaces outside of the home (15). Pritchard views these distinct forms of “outward appearance” as depending on each other. He notes that, “women could be seen in public as long as their bodies guaranteed the authenticity, legibility, and harmlessness of those displays” (16).
With chapters one and two, Pritchard sets up a balance between “the problem” and “the promise of female legibility.” As he views it, “the problem of female legibility” involves all of the interconnected questions about “what could be known from the exterior of a woman’s body” (35). He uses Mary Carleton as a case study because her story “encapsulates and dramatizes the contradictions in Restoration attempts to read women’s outward appearances” (35). He suggests that “behavioral and bodily signs were appealed to as authentic indicators of female identity, but they invariably proved undependable, with Mary Carleton and others” (43), and he goes on to highlight some of these behavioral and bodily signs. He considers breasts, vizards, and beauty, among other features of the female body, and concludes that it was more important to Restoration viewers that they not accept female illegibility but lament it (61). In chapter two he turns his focus towards how Restoration society upheld an ideal of female legibility, despite the fact that “women could not be made legible, or would not make themselves so” (62). He considers how the ideal of female legibility circulated in science (with ample citations from Joseph Glanville, Abraham Cowley, and others connected with the Royal Society), portraiture, print, and public space. The interdisciplinarity of this chapter is striking; Pritchard has done a lovely job of incorporating discourses often considered separately into a cogent argument about “the wider context of the Restoration era’s preoccupation with female legibility” (80).
In each of the remaining chapters, Pritchard examines specific sites of female display—the playhouse, the park, and the New Exchange. His analysis of the playhouse looks at “conditions specific to the Restoration playhouse,” actresses, female playwrights, and female audience members. Although he offers a number of insightful observations, there are some limitations to his interpretive framework that I discuss below. He also does not do much to advance Catherine Gallagher’s pioneering study of the relationship between the actress and the whore in Nobody’s Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670–1820 (1994). With his consideration of the park, he suggests that the park’s “aesthetic, civic, and political character are all tied up with the display of women and the complex responses that display provoked” [End Page 51] (113)—all points that he elaborates with clarity and convincingness in chapter four. The final site that Pritchard looks at, the New Exchange, allows him to address the changing terms of women’s participation in emergent systems of commerce (of the gaze as much as of goods). He counterpoises the New Exchange against the playhouse and park by indicating that “the New Exchange could not pretend to be a world apart” (145), and he underlines some of the stakes of this space of commercial transactions.