Men in Coats - Nixon

Carlylesattackon thatbody or perhaps more to the

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Unformatted text preview: ostentatiousrefinementwas far more likely to be a product of cultivation and self-fashioning than to be the result of birth. On the one hand, the dandy, with his adherence to codes resonant of a t Regency aristocracy, ppeared o testify thathe had a not exactly blue) blood beneath his sleek good (if appearance.On the other hand, however,the bourgeois attackson the dandy,importedlike the dandy himself from England to America, figured him as merely a perfection of surface-as merely a constellation of empty signs that pointed not to a real body but to a clotheshorse, a bag of reinforcing sawdust, a "(stuffed) parchment-skin" (Carlyle, Sartor 217). Carlyle'sattackon thatbody-or, perhaps more to the point, on the empty suit of fine clothes-was firstpublished in the antidandy,probourgeoisFraser'sMagazinein 1833-34. And Emerson, presumably admiring Carlyle's reviling of superficialityand pretension, ensured that the lesson was disseminated in America; he was instrumental in getting James Munroe to publish it as a book. Sartor Resartus, like Thackeray's later "Men and Coats," which appeared in Fraser's in 1841, took aim at the sneering of unapologetic, exclusivist Regency aristocratsat the middle classes. If Fraser's was, as Ellen Moers points out, notorious for its concerted "waron the dandy school" (169), America'sresponseto its position was ambiguous.3 As perhapsEmerson'seagernessto make available Carlyle's assault on the tyranny of fashion suga gests, the North'sself-representation s egalitarian, 364 " C ThePoliticsof theDandiacalBodyin Melville's Benito ereno" democratic, and classless was challenged by the frankAnglophilia of its elite. Its sons, the McCurdys and Glendinning Stanlys, were rushed off for grand tours, and their resultant dandyism was deemed acceptable refinement;its educators, including Harvard's Henry Longfellow, young Charles Sumner, and George Ticknor, went to b Englandto attendexclusive Wednesday-night alls with the leaders of the dandy "Ton"at Almack's and sit at the feet of such notorious Lady Patronesses as Lady Holland (Moers 45-46; Story 127); and its journalists, like the popular Nathaniel Parker Willis, reported life with such "Rulers of Fashion"as Lady Blessington and the CountD'OrM say in the New York irrorand the Home Journal. Willis in particularhad a reputation,due in partto his editorial self-fashioning and his having challenged the English navalcaptainFrederickMarryat to a duel, for being an aesthete and a dandy who could communicate the intricacies of the English beau monde to an eager New York audience-an audience, according to SandraTomc, largely composed of aspirantsto the emergentsmartset (784). From the 1830s onward, if the northernmiddle class was, as KarenHalttunenarguesintelligently, busy codifying politeness or erecting "barrier[s] against the vulgar"in an effort to delineate correct genteel society (112), the elite was busy admiring and attempting to emulate the caprices of a decadent English aristocracy. nd yet the attackson the A confidence man, who could "severthe connection between inner characterand outwardappearance" (Halttunen 42), overlapped metaphorically and substantiallywith criticismsof the dandy:both figa ures were articulated s operatingwithin a semiotic of surfaceand depth.The richly ambiguoussurface text of the dandy'scostume and social form was, in other words, something of a hermeneutic puzzle for the Yankee interpreter, or it could clothe genf uine superiority,empty coxcombery, or, at worst, calculatedchicanery. A friend of Willis's and a reader of Fraser's Magazine, Melville was certainlyfamiliarwith the antidandydebates and with northernsocial exclusivism.4 White-Jacket,for example, frequently alludes to dandies in its pronouncements about the gross social disparitybetween the common sailors ("thepeople") and the quarterdeck"lords and no- blemen; members of that House of Peers" (31). One of the quarterdeck ords, Selvagee, is the "exl act type and symbol of a tall, genteel, limber, spiralisingexquisite"with a "daintywaist and languid cheek,"who "sport[s]a coat fashionedby a Stultz"; with "all the intrepid effeminacy of your true dandy, he still continued his Cologne-water baths [.. .] in the very teeth of a tempest," rapping out the occasional oath, which like the "soft bomb stuffed with confectioner's kisses seems to burst like a crushedrose-buddiffusing its odours"(32-33). By the 1840s, Stultze, who was reputedlythe dandy's cherished tailor, had become synonymous with empty fashionability-a synecdoche for the Regency dandy,invoked regularlyin Fraser's editorial commentary.5 hackeray'sYellowplush apers, P T which started appearing in Fraser's in 1837, and Carlyle's penultimate chapter in Sartor Resartus, "Tailors,"estureobliquelyto Stultze,withoutnamg ing him. While Melville does not place such overt tags on his descriptiono...
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