McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Danielle St. Hilaire
Restoration Literature, Poetry, Drama, Gender, Material Culture, New Materialism
Unruly Matter: Masculine Consumption in English Restoration Literature
Over the past several decades, material culture scholars working within the “Long 18th Century” have identified how the figure of the woman consumer became an ideological nodal point that registered new enthusiasm for emerging economic dynamics (mercantilism, nascent capitalism, etc.) while also expressing masculine anxieties about consumerism and the role of consumable goods in English society. Although many scholars have noted that men functioned symbolically and ideologically as English society’s primary consumers of material goods in the later 17th century, there is no scholarly work that aims to describe the shift in English culture from a preoccupation with masculine consumption to an anxiety-ridden focus on the woman-as-consummate-consumer. This study of Restoration literature produced from 1660-1734, examines how this gendered shift in consumption plays out in English poetry and drama.
In the early years of the Restoration, English writers deployed the figure of the failed masculine consumer in order to articulate social and cultural anxieties over a range of social issues, including: the mid-century trauma of the English Civil War and Interregnum; the failure of masculine, penis-centered sexuality; the recognition of gender as a precarious form of sensory interaction with the material world; and the ability of women to transcend, and thus subvert, their own culturally-sanctioned status as object. Later, during the early eighteenth century, the overly successful woman-as-consummate-consumer emerges to register masculine anxieties over changing economic structures, new legal and financial agencies available to women, and the failure of masculine poetics within the hyperabundance environment of emergent capitalism.
Watkins, S. (2019). Unruly Matter: Masculine Consumption in English Restoration Literature (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1814