Cruel cities in 'Geoffrey’s Wife’ and 'The Fawn Gloves'

Oulton, C. (2013) Cruel cities in 'Geoffrey’s Wife’ and 'The Fawn Gloves'. In: The Victorian Tactile Imagination, 19-20 July 2013, Birkbeck College, London.

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In their constructions of gender, both Mary Cholmondeley and Jerome K. Jerome locate women at the heart of the city, and both use the emblem of feminine hands to explore their presence there as culturally threatening. In ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’ (1885) Cholmondeley uses this image repeatedly, as the delicate hands of the bride Eva on her husband’s arm are replaced by the hands of a surging crowd during their honeymoon in Paris. In the disturbing ending to the story, Geoffrey learns that the hands around his neck belong to an ageing prostitute he has rescued in place of his wife, and he is left with nothing but a small tan glove for consolation. Jerome’s ‘The Fawn Gloves’ (first known publication 1916) references his own experience of the city in the 1880s. The gloved hands of an unnamed woman in a park are used to invoke images of Eden, as the impoverished male figure casts her in the role of muse and idyllic lover. When he learns that the woman’s hands have suffered damage from a chemical reaction, he abandons her, only to learn too late that the condition is easily remediable. The woman has by this time stopped visiting the park, and having been reluctant to learn her address or the nature of her work, the man has no other means of tracing her.

In Cholmondeley’s account the male figure is unable to protect his wife from the reverse image of the prostitute, while Jerome is exercised by what he sees as the anomaly of female employment. In his account the female muse is expelled from her rightful position by the dictates of ‘unnatural’ work. In each story the fetishist depiction of hands reveals the instability of sexual ideals: a husband misidentifies a prostitute’s hands as those of his wife, while the display of a virginal woman’s imperfect hands signifies her social failure.

While traditional ideals of the feminine are initially upheld through recognisable types of the pure woman, these figures are not adapted to survive the hostile setting in which they are placed. This dilemma is carefully explored through the exploitation, and ultimately the consumption, of women’s bodies in the anonymous crowd of the city.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English Literature
Divisions: pre Nov-2014 > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English and Language Studies
Depositing User: Prof Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2013 13:55
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2014 14:11

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00