Art and Design Research Seminar Series
'By no means an unimportant item in human wellbeing': Mrs Oliphant's Dress (1878)
As part of the Art and Design Research Seminar Series, Dr Emma Ferry presents: By no means an unimportant item in human wellbeing: Mrs Oliphant's Dress (1878).
- From: Wednesday 21 October 2015, 12 am
- To: Wednesday 21 October 2015, 12 am
- Location: Newton 51, Newton building, Main Entrance, Nottingham Trent University, City Campus, Goldsmith Street, Nottingham, NG1 4BU
Dr Emma Ferry presents: By no means an unimportant item in human wellbeing: Mrs Oliphant's Dress (1878).
"Dress is by no means an unimportant item in human wellbeing. The majority of us, perhaps, are somewhat ashamed of the importance we attach to it… but there are very few indeed who have not at one time or other felt some personal anxiety on the subject." (Oliphant 1878: 7)
Published between 1876 and 1883, Macmillan & Co.'s Art at Home Series was a collection of advice manuals aimed explicitly at an expanding lower middle-class readership. Devised and edited by the Reverend W. J. Loftie, the 12 books in the British series covered a diverse range of subjects from Suggestions for House Decoration to Sketching from Nature (Ferry 2007). Among them was a volume titled Dress (1878), which was written by the well-known novelist, Mrs Margaret Oliphant (1828-1897) and illustrated by Queen Victoria's librarian, Sir Richard Holmes (1835-1911).
As an author "fascinated by the contrast between the intransigent materialism of clothes themselves and the subtle gradations of inner feeling they could disguise or reveal" (Jay 1995: 304), Oliphant used clothing in her fictional works as an expression of female values and emotions or "to explore the freedoms and limitations of late 19th-century class mobility" (Michie 2002: 305). Dress, however, is non-fiction; an advice book in which Oliphant draws on literary and visual sources to offer her readers a concise history of fashion that highlights "the inconveniences and mistakes of the costume of the past" while also attempting to advise on "what is wanting to the comfort and beauty of dress at the present time" (Oliphant 1878: 64).
Drawing upon previously unpublished sources from the Macmillan Archive and contemporary reviews, this paper will consider the production and reception of Mrs Oliphant's Dress; a late nineteenth-century example of 'textual fashion'.
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