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Women’s Pockets and the Construction of Privacy in the Long Eighteenth Century

Ariane Fennetaux, University of Paris 7

Volume 20, no. 3, Spring 2008

©McMaster University, 2015. All articles published on the Eighteenth-Century Fiction website are protected by copyright held by Eighteenth-Century Fiction, a journal published by the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster University.


In this essay, I show how an apparently trivial object — the tie-on pocket — can help us to understand how a complex notion like privacy was mediated and constructed at a given time in history. While embracing a material culture approach, I suggest that discussions of privacy cannot be founded on a purely textual-based account of interiority. In the eighteenth century, material literacy was more widespread than textual literacy; objects, the practices they lent themselves to, and their associated meanings were accessible to a larger section of the population than the texts which have tended to shape our understanding of privacy in the eighteenth century. In their complex uses, pockets comprise thresholds that articulate relationships between interior and exterior, secrecy and disclosure, self and other. Pockets are thus a heuristic tool to interrogate privacy, and challenge some of the conventional ideas one might have about the links between women and the domestic interior, between secrecy and privacy, or between subjects and objects.

Other ECF articles on the topic of “Clothing” include:

Clothes without Bodies: Objects, Humans, and the Marketplace in Eighteenth-Century It-Narratives and Trade Cards
by CHLOE WIGSTON SMITH (ECF 23.2, Winter 2010-11)

“With My Hair in Crystal”: Mourning Clarissa
by KATHLEEN M. OLIVER (ECF 23.1, Fall 2010)

Rags of Immortality: Clarissa’s Clothing and the Exchange of Second-Hand Goods
by IRENE FIZER (ECF 20.1, Fall 2007)

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