Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

John Funchion

Second Committee Member

Tassie Gwilliam

Third Committee Member

Joel Nickels

Fourth Committee Member

Keri Holt


My dissertation argues that fashion operates in a wide range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century texts to reveal a new form of perception and a mode of resistance predicated on fashion. Rather than being a tool of manipulation, fashion cultivates a conception of self. I take my cue from Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus’ theory of surface reading to suggest that the authors of novels and advice literature produce a mode of reading the surfaces of others. The key to understanding the role of fashion in the novel depends on what I am calling “fashion sense.” Fashion sense becomes a focal point of nineteenth-century aesthetic culture, providing a new way of feeling outside of hegemonic norms and prescriptive sentiment. This dissertation examines aesthetic strategies for resistance in etiquette manuals, periodicals, and novels. I consider the theories of Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau, and Jacques Lacan to account for the tactical method of surface reading exhibited by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, and Nella Larsen. By tracing the nineteenth-century debates surrounding conduct and dress, I demonstrate that fashion is part of a larger philosophical discourse. Ultimately, the mass reproduction of both fashion and the novel underscores the way in which intersubjective desire informs industrialization and the use of urban space. I conclude with a discussion of aesthetic activism in new media using fashion.


american fiction-nineteenth-century-history and criticism; fashion in literature; consumption (economics) in literature