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  • Come Buy, Come Buy: Shopping and the Culture of Consumption in Victorian Women's Writing
  • Heather McAlpine
Krista Lysack . Come Buy, Come Buy: Shopping and the Culture of Consumption in Victorian Women's Writing. Ohio University Press. 2008. 256. US$49.95, US$26.95

Corrective of the tendency in readings of Victorian consumer culture to view women's participation in the marketplace - their dual role as subjects and objects of consumption -as prescriptive and regulatory, Come Buy, Come Buy offers a welcome reappraisal of shopping in the second half of the nineteenth century. In this briskly paced, engaging study, Lysack shows how emerging consumer practices in the Victorian period (the creation of department stores, for example, where shoppers could browse merchandise freely rather than be served) multiplied rather than limited the possibilities for the production of female subjectivity and locates representations of these practices in an impressive range of literature written by women. Her approach draws on the work of Michel de Certeau in arguing for the disruptive and transformative potential of 'everyday practices.' Rather than regulating herself in accordance with the state, like Foucault's or Althusser's subject under capitalism, the Certeauvian subject engages in 'tactics' that elude discipline and make possible the shaping of subjectivity through pleasure, rather than the disavowal of appetite. Beyond its obvious appropriateness for a study of the representation of shopping in Victorian culture, Lysack's use of de Certeau is also helpful in accounting for the economic oppression of women in a way that highlights possibilities for agency and progress.

Chapter 1, 'Goblin Markets,' joins recent attempts to revise the critical view of Christina Rossetti as renunciate, positioning her instead as a [End Page 356] savvy spectator of the strategic possibilities for consumption in an imperial age. By showing how Rossetti balances her representation of the dangers of 'consumer spectacle' in the enchanted fruit and its malevolent goblin merchants against a delight in the subversion of this marketplace, as the sisters ultimately shoplift what they desire, Lysack reveals a startlingly radical impulse in a poem so often read as a conservative lesson in continence. Embedding her discussion of 'Goblin Market' in a historical account of the growing popularity of 'Oriental' imported goods sold in such London shops as Liberty's, where Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelites purchased the 'exotic' props that feature in some of their most famous paintings, Lysack draws convincing links between anxieties over empire, female desire, and the unpredictability of women's shopping habits.

By examining Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret and George Eliot's Middlemarch against the meticulously rendered backdrop of contemporary discussions around kleptomania and household economy, chapters 2 ('Lady Audley's Shopping Disorders') and 3 ('Middlemarch and the Extravagant Domestic Spender') consider the ways in which Victorian women constructed and reshaped their identity through participation in the circulation of commodities. In the fourth chapter, 'The Erotics of Connoisseurship in Michael Field's Sight and Song,' Lysack performs perceptive close readings of the poetry of Field (the pseudonym for partners Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper) within an exploration of the material conditions of its publication at the Bodley Head, situating these in the late-Victorian context of the book as marker of prestige and object of consumer desire. Next, highlighting the extent to which the suffrage movement mobilized women as consumers to achieve its political ends, chapter 5, 'Votes for Women and the Tactics of Consumption,' examines that suffrage newspaper along with several short stories that depict shopping, shop vandalism, and shop-keeping as central, not marginal, strategies in the promotion of the cause. The exceptionally satisfying afterword ('Becoming Elizabeth Dalloway') drives home Lysack's point about the shopper as 'site of contestation or negotiation between self and world' through a reading of Elizabeth Dalloway (in Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway) as a 'Deleuzian girl,' pursuing errant, exhilarating 'lines of flight' across the modern commercial landscape.

In adopting de Certeau's approach to shopping as an 'everyday practice' or 'tactic,' Lysack brings to light the complexities of Victorian consumer culture and its potential for the production of female agency without espousing a naive faith in the capitalist myth of...


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pp. 356-357
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