Macquarie University
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Fascinated by self-fabrication: early sensation fiction's interest in dress and identity

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posted on 2022-03-28, 22:53 authored by Nicklas Haglund
Dress is a facet of identity that is often overlooked by literary criticism and the wider scholarly community. Inspired by the fruitful research carried out by sociologists, dress historians and a small cadre of sartorially interested literary critics, this thesis addresses a crucial gap in Victorian literary criticism. It asks two questions: how does dress contribute to the construction and reception of identity in modern literature? And more specifically, why is the sartorial registered so strongly in early sensation fiction of the 1860's? Throughout its textual analysis of 'The Woman in White' (Wilkie Collins, 1860) and 'Lady Audley’s Secret' (Mary Elizabeth Braddon, 1862) this thesis demonstrates that their themes, characterisation and plots are communicated discursively through the deployment and reception of sartorial cues. Consequently, this thesis contends that sensation fiction texts are inherently sartorial narratives, in which their authors deploy significant descriptions of dress to position and engage with their readers. Sensation fiction’s generic features are also re-examined to highlight how Collins and Braddon use sartorial cues to appropriate detective and gothic fiction elements to reflect on contemporary concerns regarding dress and identity in their novels. In doing so, this thesis asserts that sensation fiction captured the mid-Victorian fascination with sartorial self-fabrication.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter One. Navigating the masquerade : unmasking duplicitous representations of identity rendered as a modern necessity -- Chapter Two. Articulating mass anxiety : the Gothic threat of the anonymous stranger -- Chapter Three. Enthralled by dress : the centrality of sartorial cues to characterisation and plot in popular sensation fiction -- Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 59-61

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Lee Christine O'Brien


Copyright Nicklas Haglund 2014. Copyright disclaimer:




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