Fashion and coquetry, 1807

By Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard (1803-47), known as Grandville. (paumsarin.wordpress.com)

By Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard (1803-47), known as Grandville. (paumsarin.wordpress.com)

My last passage quoted several posts ago from William Hazlitt was followed merely a page later by this passage, which rivals if it does not quite repeat the endlessness of its predecessor. Whereas the prior passage limns the hopelessless (at least in the opinion of sociologists) of the status of the romance-reading coquette, Hazlitt’s voluptuous language here diagrams the architecture of the female sartorial armamentarium. Here the architecture of words and of form meet in the language of perfection, or at least a perfection of language.

The young ladies we at present see with the thin muslin vest drawn tight round the slender waist, and following with nice exactness the undulations of the shape downwards, disclosing each full swell, each coy recess, obtruding on the eye each opening charm, the play of the muscles, the working of the thighs, and by the help of a walk, of which every step seems a gird, and which keeps the limbs strained to the utmost pain, displaying all those graceful involutions of person, and all those powers of fascinating motion, of which the female form is susceptible – these moving pictures of lust and nakedness, against which the greasy imaginations of grooms and porters may rub themselves, running the gauntlet of the saucy looks and indecent sarcasms of the boys in the street, starting at every ugly fellow, leering at every handsome man, and throwing out a lure for every fool (true Spartan girls, who if they were metamorphosed into any thing in the manner of Ovid, it would certainly be into valerian!) are the very same, whose mothers or grand-mothers buried themselves under a pile of clothes, whose timid steps hardly touched the ground, whose eyes were constantly averted from the rude gaze of the men, and who almost blushed at their own shadows.

Well, maybe this has indeed surpassed in length the sentence of the other day. It is from the next page of the same book criticizing the population theories of Malthus – no doubt the sort of sentence that was calculated to foster the brisk sale of volumes. So feel free to hit on this blog post.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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