Dress, Distress and Desire explores representations of sartorial experience in eighteenth-century literature. Batchelor's study brings together for the first time canonical and non-canonical texts, including novels, conduct books and women's magazines, to investigate the pressures that the growth of the fashion market placed on conceptions of female virtue and propriety. While anxieties surrounding dress are by no means exclusive to the eighteenth century, Batchelor demonstrates that these concerns took on a specific character in the literature of sensibility, which read the body as an index to the mind. Clothing acted as a barrier to the legible body, allowing women to conceal the physical signs of transgression and provoking writers to establish elaborate fashion systems and proposals for dress reform in a bid to re-align body and mind. Dress, Distress and Desire explores the centrality of dress to constructions of femininity in the period while revealing how women might have used dress to resist sentimental literature's more prescriptive dictates.

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