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Bare-Faced Cheek: Authenticity, Femininity and Cosmetics in English Romantic-Era Print Culture

Masterson, Fiona (2014) Bare-Faced Cheek: Authenticity, Femininity and Cosmetics in English Romantic-Era Print Culture. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.47663) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:47663)

Language: English

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“Bare-Faced Cheek: Authenticity, Femininity and Cosmetics in English Romantic-Era Print Culture” examines the rhetoric that surrounded women’s use of cosmetics in Romantic-era England through the focus of prevailing notions of authenticity and a Romantic valorisation of nature over artifice. The rhetoric that surrounded women’s use of cosmetics in Romantic-era England was as contentious as it was dichotic when the moralising dogma of literature of conduct came to clash with the commercial agenda of advertising rhetoric and notions of beauty, taste and women’s proper place in the social order became subjects of deliberation and debate. The significance of cosmetics in the Romantic era shifted from that of courtly display and fashionable visibility to that of tasteful moderation and restrained decorum. This, in turn, elicited a furious anti-cosmetic backlash that spoke of women’s use of cosmetics in terms of vanity, duplicity and fraudulence. The increasing medicalisation of the female body and the dissemination of that knowledge through a burgeoning print trade meant that such accusations could be accompanied by dire warnings of the deleterious nature of many lead, mercury and arsenical-based preparations that were being prepared, manufactured and promoted by a coterie of hucksters, quacks and charlatans.

However, the very burgeoning print culture that gave voice to such allegations and cautions also provided a sounding-board for other voices such as the newly emerging sub-genre of the beauty manual that presented cosmetics as benign, effectual and the sign of a healthy regard for the beauty bestowed upon humanity by God. Furthermore, the rise of periodical publications designed particularly with a female readership in mind provided a forum for discussion of matters cosmetical and regular features within such publications promoted the cosmetic benefits of skincare and the effectual preservation of beauty. Advertisers also made good use of such publications as places to promote their goods as anodynely effective and discretely undetectable: an effective weapon against the ravages of time and the vagaries of nature. Cosmetics under such auspices became not only admissible but laudable, a service to both society and domestic harmony through their mollifying ability to beautify the female face.

Paradoxically then, the key to using cosmetics successfully within Romantic-era England was to learn the art of appearing authentic, natural and untouched by the dubiety of feminine ‘arts’. In a print culture conflicted over the permissibility of cosmetics within the secretive realm of the female toilette the figure of the cosmetically enhanced female was thus, one that came to be used figuratively by female novelists of the time to raise questions about: the validity of authenticity within the lives of contemporary women; the contingent nature of femininity in a society that increasingly sought to confine women within an idealised cultural script; the crushing intensity of a powerful social scrutiny; and the hegemonically disruptive potential of elective female transgression. Hence, cosmetic artifice within the works of the women authors I investigate becomes a metaphor for the over-arching artifice inherent within the social construction of Romantic-era woman. Moreover, the self-control required for her to assimilate herself as naturally virtuous, diffident and unworldly points to the cosmetic artistry required to make her naturally beautiful.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Batchelor, Jennie E
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.47663
Additional information: The author of this thesis has requested that it be held under closed access. We are sorry but we will not be able to give you access or pass on any requests for access. 04/03/2022
Uncontrolled keywords: Romantic-era, femininity, cosmetics, beauty, authenticity, print culture, domestic novel, advertising, beauty manuals, conduct guides, advice literature, education, women's periodicals.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 14 Mar 2015 01:00 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2022 14:32 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Masterson, Fiona.

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