Thomas Gainsborough is best known as the painter of rustic, sentimentalized scenes like The Harvest Wagon and of ultra-stylized portraits like The Blue Boy, which has achieved iconic status. A year after Gainsborough’s death, Sir Joshua Reynolds chose to celebrate Gainsborough’s “portrait-like representation of nature” and noted that Gainsborough’s excellence was “selected by himself from the great school of nature” (qtd. In Bermingham, 58). Since then, the critical consensus hasn’t much changed; it’s Gainsborough’s innovations in landscape painting that make him the proto-Romantic artist who paved the way for JMW Turner. One could look at Gainsborough’s Cottage Door with Cowper’s “The Task” or Wordsworth’s “An Evening Walk” to get a sense of the perspectives, affects and fantasies that shaped the early Romantic pastoral. This being said, I’m interested in aligning Gainsborough with the writings of the Romantic period along a different axis: it may be productive to read his portraits alongside Austen’s domestic realism. The thinking here is part of a larger project on the two artists that I’m trying to make-work. For now, what compels me about the Gainsborough-Austen connection is not their shared preference for the countryside but their ambivalent representations of fashionable people and places, often associated with the urban. Continue reading Thomas Gainsborough, Jane Austen and Fashionable Society
Welcome back, readers! As Managing Editor, I am excited to say that we have an all-star lineup of new bloggers, roundtables, and conferences to share with you this Fall. (For the identities of these mysterious new bloggers, who represent a wide selection of American and Canadian universities, take a look at Our Writers).
In the midst of getting organized for the new semester of NGSC blogging, though, I’m also preparing to give a presentation for my friend Katie Gemmill’s undergraduate seminar at Columbia, which she has brilliantly titled “Miss Behaviour: Transgressive Women in 18th-Century British Fiction.” In response to the assigned primary-source texts on dress, disguise, and gender, I will be providing some historical background for female cross-dressing during this period. Since I think blog readers are just as likely as students to be intrigued by the topic, I’ll introduce to you now some fascinating (and, most importantly, * real *) cases of female cross-dressing and concealed identity — especially in the context of same-sex relationships — in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Continue reading Female Cross-Dressers in 18th-Century and Romantic England
The contemporary gentlemen’s club may be encapsulated in the image of scantily clad women performing impressive acrobatic routines in front of a beery audience rather less capable of similar athleticism in a windowless building that clings to the seedier edges of town. It seems a fine irony that these strip joints, with their sticky, slick furniture, skewed sexual voyeurism and spilt beer take their moniker from establishments adjoining London’s centre of power, which excluded women, and had large windows from which the elite could watch the world outside without being seen.
Our modern gentleman’s club’s idea of the gentleman is as flat as its beer and as restricted as a bouncer’s facial expressions. There is a much more interesting story to be told, one that tracks the evolution of masculinity and gentility throughout the nineteenth century while touching on wider patterns of socialization. Continue reading Guest Post: Another Kind of “Gentlemen’s Club”: A Brief Illustrated History of an Institution