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Fashion and Fiction

Self-Transformation in Twentieth-Century American Literature
Lauren S. Cardon


BUY Cloth · 232 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813938615 · $75.00 · Apr 2016
BUY Paper · 232 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813938622 · $29.50 · Apr 2016
BUY Ebook · 232 pp. · ISBN 9780813938639 · $29.50 · Apr 2016

During the twentieth century, the rise of the concept of Americanization—shedding ethnic origins and signs of "otherness" to embrace a constructed American identity—was accompanied by a rhetoric of personal transformation that would ultimately characterize the American Dream. The theme of self-transformation has remained a central cultural narrative in American literary, political, and sociological texts ranging from Jamestown narratives to immigrant memoirs, from slave narratives to Gone with the Wind, and from the rags-to-riches stories of Horatio Alger to the writings of Barack Obama. Such rhetoric feeds American myths of progress, upward mobility, and personal reinvention.

In Fashion and Fiction, Lauren S. Cardon draws a correlation between the American fashion industry and early twentieth-century literature. As American fashion diverged from a class-conscious industry governed by Parisian designers to become more commercial and democratic, she argues, fashion designers and journalists began appropriating the same themes of self-transformation to market new fashion trends. Cardon illustrates how canonical twentieth-century American writers, including Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Nella Larsen, symbolically used clothing to develop their characters and their narrative of upward mobility. As the industry evolved, Cardon shows, the characters in these texts increasingly enjoyed opportunities for individual expression and identity construction, allowing for temporary performances that offered not escapism but a testing of alternate identities in a quest for self-discovery.

Reviews:


Lauren Cardon gives us a broad-spectrum study of how we read, manipulate, blend, and perform fashion in American society and literature. She deftly moves from theory to practice, placing novelists and designers of the Gilded Age in the context of current conversations about the many meanings of fashion. Seeing new patterns in familiar novels, Cardon stitches together a book that is lush, smart, and a joy to read.

Katherine Joslin, Western Michigan University, author of Edith Wharton and the Making of Fashion

Fashion and Fiction is packed with details about clothing design and manu-facture in New York City. The prose is lively, and there is much for readers to learn. Cardon blends fashion history and literary interpretation to give us new ways of thinking about familiar novels and, at times, about novels we may not know well. It is a good book for Wharton scholars and aficionados, especially those looking for links between her novels and those of other writers in the period. Cardon’s framing of fashion and her selection of fiction would work well in undergraduate and graduate classes on novels in a cultural context.

Edith Wharton Review

About the Author: 

Lauren S. Cardon, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alabama, is the author of The "White Other" in American Intermarriage Stories, 1945–2008.

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