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  • I Too Am a Rare Pattern
  • Zoë Brigley (bio) and Victoria Brookland (bio)

Antoinette Cento

You can pretend for a long time but one dayit all falls away and you are alone: alwaystwo deaths: the real one, and the one peopleknow about. I must remember chandeliersand dancing: ladders and roses and snow: the yellowhandkerchief she wore round her head tiedat the front in Martinique fashion. You hate meand I hate you. We'll see who hates best. Unhappilychildren do hurt flies. Have all beautiful things saddestinies? I wrote it down several times, andalways it looked like a damn cold lie to me.The dress on the floor: fire spread acrossthe room. Does it make me look intemperateand unchaste? They say when trouble comes, closeranks, and so the white people did. On the battlementsit was cool and I could hardly hear them. It waswrapped in a leaf, what she had given me, andI felt it smooth and shiny, against my skin. [End Page 262]

Crumbling Is Not an Instant's Act

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[End Page 263]

A Dressmaker's Pattern

Edward Hyde, governor of New York in the 1700s, was well known for wearing dresses, and when challenged for opening the New York Assembly in a hooped gown, he told the crowd that he was simply doing his utmost to represent Queen Ann:

You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman, and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can.

Hyde nimbly evaded censure by framing himself as a representative of the queen, and her dress as a symbol of monarchic power, albeit a dubious colonial one. What is subversive though is the thought that feminine trappings (as they are traditionally framed) are not just attached to womanhood, but are a part of every human being—male, female, or nonbinary—with the potential for that to be explored and celebrated.

Victoria Brookland's paintings of dresses suggest this too and more. Brook-land's drawings of dresses are seldom inhabited by bodies, which speaks to a more expansive view of what womanhood (or the femininity traditionally associated with womanhood) might represent. It is still taboo in parts of the West for a man or boy to wear a dress, despite the fact that toxic masculinity has deadly consequences.

I first encountered English artist Victoria Brookland ten years ago, when we were resident artists at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England. We had common interests: in expanding or challenging notions of femininity and women's sexuality; in challenging violence against women and minorities; and in dress, performance, and pantomime. Though we have never met in person, we developed a powerful sympathy through letters, and it has been a relationship I cherish though defined by the exchange of words and images rather than physical interaction. Brookland's art often responds to texts by writers like Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, and the Brontë Sisters, with fragments of their writings woven into the drawings. My poems are intertextual too, using forms like the cento, the golden shovel, and redactions, to speak through other writers' voices of my own concerns.

For example, Brookland's Vésuviennes refers to a fascinating story described by Joan Wallach Scott in Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man. The Vésuviennes were a bogus feminist group set up by the Paris police to recruit prostitutes, but the underlying motive was to discredit and harass real feminist movements. The fake manifesto was so convincing that generations of historians treated it as a genuine document. My response was to create a redaction using a page from Wallach Scott's study to highlight anxieties about sexuality and gender both in the Victorian era and now.

Brookland's Crumbling Is Not an Instant's Act recalled for me the scene in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, where Antoinette Mason Rochester (called "Bertha" and imprisoned by Mr. Rochester) burns down Thornfield Hall. The [End Page 264] image gave voice...


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pp. 262-274
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