Scopophilia and spectacle: Fashion and femininity in the novels of Frances Burney

Cheryl Denise Clark


My dissertation investigates how the relationship between looking and being seen, or the interaction between scopophilia and spectacle, intersects with the rise of consumer culture and the ascendance of eighteenth-century fashion and fashionable places. By using Frances Burney's novels as a lens through which to examine the eighteenth century's fascination with looking, I consider the ways in which attracting "the look" or gaining attention through the visibility of stylish apparel and goods becomes a pathway to social agency in Burney's novels. Fashion for Burney, I argue, emerges as a multifaceted system that manifests as a means of as social power that becomes essential in shaping ideas of eighteenth-century femininity and in challenging the existing power structure of the aristocracy. Through successive chapters my project traces how the shopkeeper, the dressmaker, the milliner, the hairdresser, the carriage maker, and the entrepreneurs of pleasure resorts, all help to transform a young woman into a "custom-designed" fashionable lady. The "being seen" object, or the lady of fashion, emerges as an empowered spectacle who not only finds social status through her fashionable displays, but who also becomes a subversive agent in the social realm.