Posted by: kdpotter | September 21, 2011

Bleak House and clothing

Over the summer I started reading a few history blogs, and one of them mentioned Bleak House:

If you’re not inclined to click the link, the relevant quotation is near the bottom of the post; “In this he [William Bruges, a cabinetmaker] was not unlike most of his Victorian contemporaries, who held their predecessors and predecessors’ tastes in low regard.  In Bleak House, for instance, Dickens creates a devastating caricature of a Regency beau in old Mr. Turveydrop.”

Springing off of that, one thing that has really popped out of Bleak House for me is the emphasis on clothes, and the way they give some hints as to the wearer’s character. I mentioned Charley Coavinses in class, and how Dickens’ emphasis on her “womanly” bonnet and apron underscore how fast she has grown up, before she needed to. Mr Tulkinghorn is probably one of the best examples of this. When we first meet him, Dickens tells us that Tulkinghorn is of “the old school…and wears knee breeches tied with ribbons, or gaiters and stockings. One peculiarity of his black clothes, and of his black stockings, be they silk or worsted, is that they never shine. Mute, close, irresponsive to any glancing light, his dress is like himself.”

As the endnote points out, knee breeches were hopelessly out of fashion by 1852, except possibly in extremely formal situations (ie the British court). That Mr Tulkinghorn is clinging to them for every-day wear fifty years after everyone else has stopped wearing them says a great deal about his personality.


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