Sunday, February 24, 2013

The New Age January 2 1913

I'm currently in a class on fashion and modernism, taught by Jessica Burstein.  I'm planning on combining my research for the class with my periodical project--so this issue has  particulalry perfect moments, especially in the short story "The Changeling" by Beatrice Hastings, and in the article "The Evolution of a Bonnet" by Auguste Filon, translated by Paul V. Cohn.  Filon was the tutor of Napoleon, Prince Imperial

"Bonnet" is a little weird, first, in linking overtly clothes and thought: "the bonnet must needs know something of what goes on in the head that it adorns." 

Yet this article is not really about the evolution of the bonnet.  It's about the shift in gender roles that is demonstrated by changes in professional garb.  See page 199:

I knew it [the bonnet] twenty-five or thirty years ago, simple, plain, and sober. It only aspired at covering the head, while leaving the forehead free, and at keeping the hair in order. After that I lost sight of it, and now I find it again--smart, coquettish, ambitious, at times challenging and fascinating."

That's pretty much the essence of the piece: that nurses have changed, probably for the worse, as nursing shifted from a "call" to a "profession" (200).  Filon grumps about their flirtatiousness, tyrrany, and especially their desire for social mobility.  I think the most telling moment might be where her scorns their romantic dreams of adventure, or at least of caring for the detritus of adventure, the "millionaire taken prisoner at bayonet point."  Filon's young pupil was not taken prisoner: his rash audacity got him killed in the Zulu wars (see Wikipedia above). 

So, the evolution of the bonnet is intimately tied to Imperial anxieties?  Women becoming callous through their professionalization ruins their sentimental goodness?  This is all pretty familiar stuff for a student of early 20th century literature, but where it might be useful to me is in the way Filon reads so much into the ostensible subject of the essay--professional women's wear.  Once it ceases to be merely utilitarian, it becomes uncanny. 

Hastings's short story, again under pseudonym, adds another wrinkle to her view of women (see earlier posts).  It's the very-unflattering portrait of a kept woman, drawing connections between her desire for material comfort and her decision to be kept.  Issues of authenticity abound.  I have a feeling that I'll be writing a paper on this story--too much to say for a short blog post, but the mannequin will feature...

Other found objects of note in the issue:

Epigrams against T.E. Hulme and Rhyhtm, by Hastings under a different pseudonym (three in one issue!), page 212.

Then, and this blows my mind, she's published a letter to the editor to the effect that the white slave traffic is all anti-foriegn propaganda--followed by a rebuke to a sufferagette who accuses her of minimizing the length of the struggle for a vote. I will read her biography (by Stephen Gray) when it arrives at the library--and perhaps I'll get some insight. 

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