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Reviews Rappaport, Erika. ShoppingforPleasure: Women in the Making of Undon's West End. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000. xiii+323. Erika Rappaport examines how London's West End became a space in which women produced public identities in the midst of an increasingly commercialised mass culture from the 1850s until World War I. While other studies such as Walkowitz's and Nord's have noted that women who inhabited London's streets did so at risk of being associated with social contagion and sexual promiscuity, Rappaport emphasises the ways in which these same streets became synonymous with female pleasure. By approaching shopping as a gendered practice which is "more than merely purchasing goods in a shop" (5) but also leisure "understood in spatial terms" (5), she considers that middleclass women consumed not only by going to shops, but also by frequenting tea shops, clubs, museums, and theatres, demonstrating that a network of pleasurable pursuits comprised women's urban culture. The book addresses a surprising gap in the study of commodity culture . While Adburgham, McKendrick, Brewer, Plumb, and Lancaster have written social histories of shopping, the origins of consumer culture, and the department store, Rappaport has produced a material history of women and consumption in nineteenth-century London. Unlike earlier studies, Rappaport considers commodity culture as a site in which public space and gender identities were produced through each other, such that "the Victorian metropolis was the product of collaboration and conflict between different social groups attempting but not necessarily asserting mastery over the meanings and spaces of the city" (J), a space in which female subjects located their own forms of agency and desire within urban institutions. While Bowlby, Richards, and Kowaleski-Wallace have produced studies of consumption and gender which emphasise a similar historicising of texts, Rappaport summons considerably more primary sources. In keeping with an emphasis on cultural studies, in which subjects construct meaning through the materiality of everyday life, Rappaport consults an impressive array of documents and discourses: local press, Victorian Review113 Reviews draper's journals, court transcripts, women's magazines, guidebooks, advertisements, and musical comedies, to name a few. The first chapter explores how local resistance to and gradual acceptance of London's first department store, Whiteley's, which opened in 1863 in suburban Bayswater, put forth competing discourses central to the production of female urban pleasures. By examining the objections of small shopkeepers, publicans, and residents as recorded in local papers and trade journals between the 1860s and 1880s, Rappaport uncovers a cultural ambivalence toward consuming women and the dangers that might erupt within the space of the department store in which a variety of commodities and services gave way to disordered categories of class, gender, and moral boundaries. She goes on to show how, by the 1880s, the initial protests against Whiteley's shifted to a greater acceptance and active promotion of a commercialised Westbourne Grove, implying a reformulation of femininity in which women's public pleasures and consumption became aligned with respectable bourgeois femininity. The second chapter examines how newly mobile shoppers to the West End participated increasingly in credit transactions which troubled traders and husbands alike. While a small-scale credit system was already in place for aristocratic shoppers who patronised speciality shops, the mass retailing of the mid- to late-nineteenth century led to credit disputes when many women refused to pay their debts. Despite shifting meanings of women's property and legal obligations due to the Women's Property Acts, Rappaport demonstrates through her examination of contemporary court cases that husbands were rarely found liable for their wives' debts. Matters of legality and economics, then, leaked into the private sphere and women spenders were feared for the ruin they could bring to the bourgeois home. In chapter three, Rappaport examines the vexed relationship between commercial culture and the early feminist movement, looking particularly at feminist initiatives to bring greater access for women to the urban sphere by lobbying for the bunding women's clubs, restaurants, tea shop, and lavatories. Many suffragettes, seeing the West End as a 114volume 28 number 2 Reviews consumerist temptation, hoped that institutions such as the women's club could provide an alternative to commercial culture. However...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 113-117
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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