Grotesqueries and Fashion: The Gothic Vagaries of the Regency ‘Gentleman’

Wednesday, 2 December, 6.00 – 7.30 pm at the Lit and Phil Library, Newcastle upon Tyne

Dr. Alison Younger, University of Sunderland, will present a paper entitled ‘Grotesqueries and Fashion: The Gothic Vagaries of the Regency ‘Gentleman’.

In John Badcock’s ‘Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase the Pit or Bon-ton (1823)’, the writer (pseudonymously known as John Bee) offers a circuitous, and somewhat convoluted definition of what one might expect an English gentleman to be. Having established what a gentleman is not, (for example, a gambler cannot be a gentleman, though a gentleman can be a gambler), Bee, or Badcock suggests that a gentleman is one who is suitably educated in ‘Englishness’, and has genteel accomplishments, such as grammatical skills and rhetorical sprezzatura, which allow him to converse on any subject, in any circumstance and in any setting.

In terms of physical appearance, according to Badcock, the Homme com il faut, or ‘man as he ought to be’: ‘must have 32 teeth, thick curly hair, and calves six inches diameter each. Around both ankles, placed across should measure the same’. The ‘manly’ form of the superlative English gentleman marked him as part of an élite fraternity which was based, in part on the exclusion of those less physically endowed, and, therefore, less gentlemanly and indubitably less ‘English’. He should, according to phrenological discourses, have a ‘large cranium’, designed to house his larger-than-usual brain, and, anatomically have the physical system to sustain it (including a good stomach, an active liver, and, large heart). Specifically excluded from the category of ‘the English Gentleman’ were those who were stunted, narrow-chested, excitable, easily wearied, or inefficient, as these qualities were associated with women, the lower classes, Jews, Papists, Spaniards, the French, and the figure of the Dandy.

As this paper will argue, the Gothic mode allowed for the free range of the imagination and the experience of new sensations; it became a means to fulfil perverse desires, indulge in the grotesque, and play out dark fantasies. In this sense, the sensation-seeking, somewhat perverse, and fantastical dandy could be viewed as a Gothic figure. Outré and ostentatious in his dress or manners, the dandy and his eighteenth century counterpart: the flamboyantly attired and elaborately bewigged ‘Macaroni Club’; thus named for their taste for foreign foods and fashions represented a form of collective gothic anxiety to the gentlemanly classes, schooled, as they were in sportsmanship, courage, gallantry, hardiness, [and] self-discipline. To the ‘manly’ English gentleman, the Macaroni, and his French equivalent the Muscadin (based on his preference for musky scents), and latterly the Dandy came to be seen as the epitome of luxury and effeminacy in a country in which an elegant disinterest in fashion was being lauded in aristocrats and the emergent middle-classes alike. An arriviste, inauthentic social parvenu who haunted elegant assembly rooms and masquerade balls, the jigging, ambling and lisping macaroni in his modish continental fashions and powdered toupée, was considered a potential contaminant to British manliness and thus was satirised, caricatured and generally derided. Equally Dandies (known also as Exquisites and Fashionables) were seen as a vulgar, middle class affront to manliness and the aristocratic classes. To engage in such activities resulted in imprecation of effeminacy being levied at the perpetrator via biting satires and grotesque caricatures which marked the dandy as an effeminate and Frenchified sodomite who was, by virtue of his transgressive nature, monstrous and grotesque.

This paper will use a variety of media including poetry from William Maginn, and Edward Goulburn, extracts from conduct magazines, satirical caricatures from Cruikshank, and plates from Andrew White Tuer’s ‘The Follies and Fashions of our Grandfathers’ to indicate how dandies and macaronis were labelled as monstrous soulless façades by the discourses of phrenology, physiognomy and fashion due to their deeply unsettling presence in a period which lauded ‘manliness’, Englishness and chivalric masculinity.

Everyone is welcome. Refreshments available.

More information from Pat Beesley at p.beesley@ncl.ac.ukKatie's Dandy

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