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8 8 Victorian Review Dickens's anxiety about the legibility of class, women, the body and "significatory excess" (82) causes him to turn to the scar in order to "substitute fixity for [the] instability" of the blush (82). Mortification, in Dickens, becomes violence. O'Farrell situates Dickens's novel in a context of a number of novels concerned with scarred or marked characters whose identity is comfortingly fixed by their inability to evade or eliminate these marks. "Writing about bodies", O'Farrell observes, "resembles and generates a desire to write on them" (85). The teleology which O'Farrell adopts has its strengths and weaknesses. It offers a lineage of literary treatments of the body, helpfully positioning each novel in response to an earlier statement. The weakness of the approach is that it grants Austen's work a kind of magisterial and originary quality which may or may not be justified. It also does not explain why Dickens and Gaskell might have responded so differently, writing in similar historical circumstances. Because O'Farrell does not concern herself with history, the changes in the body's perceived legibility float free of any explanatory framework; they just are (although there is some explicit connection to the history of literary style). O'FarreH's last full chapter (preceding a brief conclusion) takes as its subject "The Mechanics of Confusion", and proffers short readings of a number of texts, by Braddon, Trollope, Eliot, and especially James, ending with Rushdie's Shame as a novel in which the blush of self-consciousness as a topic is combined with self conscious narrative style. In the novels O'Farrell reads in this chapter, she finds the blush to be no longer an indicator of legibility, but an index of illegibility — of the confusions of instability, both social and physical, which is it charged with representing. Altogether, O'Farrell provides a fascinating and illuminating series of close readings, well worth the perusal of readers interested in these texts. PAMELA K. GILBERT University of Florida Kathy Alexis Psomiades. Beauty's Body: Femininity and Representation in British Aestheticism. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997. 241. $39.50 US (cloth). It is quite easy, if troubling, to take for granted what Kathy Alexis Psomiades calls the "feminine face" (1) of nineteenth-century aestheticist visual and literary texts. In Beauty's Body Psomiades Reviews89 suggests that the most apparent and seemingly obvious feature of aestheticism — the feminine images which are "the central visual objects and occasions for metaphor of aestheticist art" (Psomiades 1) — remains unresolved. The sinister and lovely women inhabiting, say, D.G. Rossetti's paintings present an insistent and burdened femininity that almost demands feminist attention. While Psomiades admits that such attention has yielded impressive results, she argues that current scholarship has understood femininity as merely symptomatic or characteristic of aestheticism. This book brings together an expansive range of texts from Tennyson to Michael Field (approximately the latter half of the nineteenth-century) to demonstrate that images of femininity "play an integral part in the cultural work aestheticism does" (Psomiades 2). Aestheticism becomes constitutively gendered as feminine, Psomiades argues, as representations of femininity come to serve as the point of mediation between aestheticism's claim to an autonomous and privatized art and the dominant bourgeois commodity culture. The real work of Beauty's Body is evident not so much in its selection of texts (which are largely familiar) or in its textual analyses (which are not particularly close or sustained) but in the theoretical leverage applied to the primary material. The salient feature of this work is its generally successful attempt to cast a theoretical focus which avoids the pitfalls and harnesses the strengths of both Marxist and feminist critiques. Psomiades draws upon the strong critical history produced by theorists of Victorian gender and sexuality such as Thais Morgan, Nancy Armstrong and Griselda Pollock yet manages to keep her analysis clear of the temptation to read aestheticist (especially preRaphaelite ) texts as either resistant to or complicit with the dominant patriarchal Victorian culture. Psomiades avoids the feminist line of inquiry which leads to the stultifying dichotomy of "subversive" vs. "conservative" — treating representations as though they were teleological political agents. Instead, she reads aestheticist femininity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 88-91
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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