Modernism, Fashion and Interwar Women Writers

Vike Martina Plock

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Explores the interaction between literary and sartorial style in women writers of the interwar period

An unprecedented sartorial revolution occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century when the tight-laced silhouettes of Victorian women gave way to the figure of the flapper. Modernism, Fashion and Interwar Women Writers demonstrates how five female novelists of the interwar period engaged with an emerging fashion discourse that concealed capitalist modernity’s economic reliance on mass-manufactured, uniform-looking productions by ostensibly celebrating originality and difference. For Edith Wharton, Jean Rhys, Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf fashion was never just the provider of guidelines on what to wear. Rather, it was an important concern, offering them opportunities to express their opinions about identity politics, about contemporary gender dynamics and about changing conceptions of authorship and literary productivity. By examining their published work and unpublished correspondence, this book investigates how the chosen authors used fashion terminology to discuss the possibilities available to women to express difference and individuality in a world that actually favoured standardised products and collective formations.

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Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Novelty and the Market: Edith Wharton 37

Chapter 2 Conformity and Idiosyncrasy: Jean Rhys 73

Chapter 3 Patterns: Rosamond Lehmann 110

Chapter 4 Ties: Elizabeth Bowen 144

Chapter 5 Uniforms and Uniformity: Virginia Woolf 179

Envoi 213

Notes 220


This insightful, lively and often surprising study reveals the influence that the logic of fashion had on interwar literary culture. Plock skillfully demonstrates that fashion was not a system of dress but a cultural condition: from Edith Wharton seeking a unique 'style' as an antidote to passing trends to Rosamond Lehmann discovering the interdependence of costume and custom.
Faye Hammill, University of Strathclyde
Vike Martina Plock is Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter where she teaches courses on Joyce, modernism and the creative industries. She is the author of Joyce, Medicine, and Modernity (2010) and co-editor of the interdisciplinary journal Literature & History.

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