Albums, Belongings, and Embodying the Feminine

  • Samantha Matthews
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


In chapter 22 of David Copperfield (1850), the enterprising beautician Miss Mowcher sums up her view of society as a ‘set of humbugs’ by displaying the nail-clippings of her most prestigious client, a Russian prince. The grotesqueness of valuing an aristocratic émigré’s nail-clippings (‘Fingers and toes!’) as precious relics is articulated through Mowcher’s speculation that young ladies ‘of the genteel sort’, who pride themselves on their refined sensibilities, enshrine them in a socially sanctioned medium: the album. Carried as it is on the stream of Mowcher’s ‘volatile’ patter, the import of this satire of bourgeois materialism and snobbery might easily be overlooked. At mid-century, the album was synonymous with the culture of respectable middle-class women. As a young, usually unmarried, woman filled her blank album with personally significant texts and images it became a record of her values and interests, her friends and connections, and, most important, her subjectivity. At the same time, the album, whether carried on the body, or kept, with other intimate and private belongings, in close physical proximity, functioned as a symbolic stand-in for the feminine body. Thus Mowcher’s robust humour insinuates an impropriety in the incorporation of the male body’s intimate waste products into the feminine album.


Young Lady Feminine Body Modern Poet Young Female Subject Affective Transaction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Samantha Matthews 2012

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  • Samantha Matthews

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