Becky Munford (Cardiff) will be presenting her paper, ‘ “An Unconquerable Thirst for Trousers”: Fashioning the Modernist Subject’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 13 November 2012. The talk will take place in the Cardiff Humanities Building, Room 2.48.
The garment in which Vanessa was left sitting was her TROUSERS : Tρονδερς: trousers: trousers now, does the obtuse beast understand?
(Virginia Woolf, letter to Emma Vaughan, 20 April 1899)
On 27 May 1876, a New York Times article identified ‘an abnormal and unconquerable thirst for trousers’ as one of the most horrifying symptoms of dress reform, a ‘curious disease’ with a ‘near relation to hysteria’. As this gothic register suggests, the pathologisation of the ‘woman in trousers’ reflects broader cultural anxieties about the instability of gender and sexual identities. Linked with periods of social and political upheaval, women’s liberation, radical thought, aesthetic innovation and erotic freedom, trouser-wearing women have historically represented an illegitimate assumption of male authority and power that destabilises fixed notions of sexual difference and threatens the very fabric of the social order. Beginning with a brief literary and visual tour of the fraught history of trouser-wearing women, this paper will focus on the role played by trousers in fashioning modern subjects in the early decades of the twentieth century. With particular reference to the work of Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes, it will analyse the complex, and often contradictory, meanings attached to trousers as symptomatic of modernist women’s broader fascination with sartorial and aesthetic styling.
About the speaker
Becky Munford is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Cardiff University. She is the author of Decadent Daughters and Monstrous Mothers: Angela Carter and European Gothic (2013) and co-author, with Melanie Waters, of Feminism and Popular Culture: Investigating the Postfeminist Mystique (2013). She is currently writing a cultural history of women in trousers, the research for which has been funded by a British Academy Small Research Grant.