Formalism, as an interpretive mode, speaks as much to the social as it does to the aesthetic dimensions of culture. With this recognition has come a reminder of just how politically implicated the handling of forms can be. The mid-nineteenth-century American playwright Anna Cora Mowatt needed no such reminding. Mowatt’s popular drama Fashion (1845) addresses a politics of cultural exchange, as expressed in the contemporary preference of an aspirational class of urban Americans for a French fashion sense. Theorists often ascribe forms with liberatory potential, but the fashions that inform Mowatt’s work represent a revealing instance of forms having mastered their makers. By dramatizing a satirical entanglement of the cultural and sartorial, Mowatt speaks to the continuing potential (in her own day, as in ours) of the formal to problematize the making of meaning.


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pp. 49-75
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