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Victorian Sensational Shoppers: Representing Transgressive Femininity in Wilkie Collins's No Name Laurence Talairach-Vielmas Amongst aU privileged spies, a lady's-maid has the highest privüeges. . . . She has a hundred methods for the finding out of her mistress's secrets. . . . That weU-bred attendant knows how to interpret the most obscure diagnoses of aU mental diseases that can afflict her mistress, she knows when the ivory complexion is bought and paid for - when the pearly teeth are foreign substances fashioned by the dentist - when the glossy plaits are the reUcs of the dead, rather than the property of the Uving; and she knows other and more sacred secrets than these. She knows when the sweet smile is more false than Madame Levison's enamel, and far less enduring - when the words that issue from between the gates of borrowed pearl are more disguised and painted than the Ups which helped to shape them. When the lovely fairy of the baU-room re-enters her dressing-room after the night's long revelry, and throws aside the voluminous Burnous and her faded bouquet, and drops her mask; and like another Cinderella loses the glass-slipper, by whose gUtter she has been distinguished, and faUs back into her rags and dirt; the lady's-maid is by to see the transformation. (Braddon 336-37) In her study of consumer power in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market," Elizabeth K. Helsinger engages with Marx's 1844 manuscript "On Money" to inform the links between the female consumer and money. According to Helsinger, for Marx the circulation of money between men turns money into a common whore, the latter becoming "a bearer of power or meaning alienated from man that 56volume 31 number 2 Victorian Sensational Shoppers he must constandy struggle to repossess" (206). By enhancing man's quest to reappropriate the power of money, Helsinger underlines the risks women run as they enter the marketplace: female consumption is no recovery of power but on the contrary a dangerous venture where woman "risks being reduced from the agent who consumes to an object to be consumed in a chain of substitutions by which an aüenated power is reappropriated by more powerful consumers, usually men" (207). It is true, because women have long served as reflections of male power, as so many signs denoting economic success, exhibiting their fathers' or husbands' wealth, the equation of woman with a commodity stands out as a significant issue in many ages. In the Victorian period, however, and especiaUy at mid-century, such an equation became more ambiguous. While consumer culture foregrounded how much buying could enable women to engage in selfconstruction - and therefore self-definition - the popular Uterature of the period used the very same argument as subversive plot devices to turn commodified female characters into dangerous masquerading actresses, and fashioned plots where money and female criminality frequently coalesced. Playing upon femininity as a masquerade, the sensation novels of the 1 860s embedded their narratives within a capitalist society where the construction of 'woman' subversively depended upon the market economy. In fact, sensation fiction often probed the issue of woman's financial insecurity through female greed for money and luxuries. In Mrs. Henry Wood's or Mary EHzabeth Braddon's seminal sensation novels, marriages are 'bargainfs]' and 'offerfs]' (Braddon 11, 353), and the woman is sold to the highest bidder - or consumes the best party. In Mrs. Wood's EastLynne (1861) and Braddon's LadyAudley's Secret (1861-2) - two bigamy novels - the narratives merge woman's cornmodification and woman's consumerism. Wood's Lady Isabel - as an adulteress who therefore consumes men - becomes aware of what her crime has cost her in terms of the commodities she has lost. When she comes back to her newly married husband's house disguised as a governess, her first look into her former apartments scans "the rooms that used to be hers ... with a yearning look" (409), Victorian Review (2005)57 A. Talairach-Vielmas that the shortened form of "The Haunted and the Haunters" could stand on its own, possessing the requisite conceptual and narratological integrity of a successful short story. Wolff's evaluation is "that the story...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 56-78
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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