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Pierre Loti (1850–1923) was one of the most famous writers of his time, achieving an international fame that has decreased, however, since his death. Whereas he became renowned for novels and travelogues retracing his trips around the world, the naval officer was also one of most important autobiographical writers of his generation. The importance of privacy in his writings is crucial and opens up a new perspective on the narrative of sensibility. This chapter demonstrates Loti’s intertwining of material culture and literary production and focuses on two aspects of his life and work: first, it explores his habit of collecting memorabilia of various kinds during his trips in distant countries as well as in the very familiar surroundings of his home-town. The chapter examines the way he used to preserve these objects through desiccation (if organic), then wrapping, labelling and storing. In this respect, his lavish house in Rochefort can be considered not only as a brilliant demonstration of Belle-Epoque decoration but also as a vast archive. The chapter concludes by examining the relationship between these preserved objects and his writings, which eventually both aim at avoiding the fading and inevitable disappearance of the past.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces
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This contribution offers an unlikely comparison of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments (2019), a contemporary text of a near-future dystopia in North America, and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), an early nineteenth-century text presenting a manuscript unearthed in the Scottish Borders. In both fictions, the protagonists, steeped in an intrinsic and perverted Puritan tradition, are objectively unsympathetic, yet compelling. Each is crafting a memoir, with urgency and in dangerous conditions, and hiding it with care and cunning. The testaments in Atwood’s novel are discovered in a future time and examined by specialists, who react to them with various levels of credence, insight and sympathy; doubt, ignorance and hostility. The essay is interested in the fictional memoir as artefact: how it is created, how it is preserved, and how its new custodians perceive and present it. It explores how the confessional mode provides a container for the authenticity and integrity of self, while focusing on elements that threaten those memoirs with disintegration. These are material (for example, the Scottish testament rots in the grave) and non-material (as in the clumsy reception of the testaments by future academics). As thoughts are written, hidden, embalmed, preserved, excavated, and damaged, the vulnerability of memoir as hidden artefact emerges.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces
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In India, there has been a common practice since ancient times of having hidden compartments in wardrobes, bookshelves or even in jewellery. Be it the ring with a secret compartment holding poison belonging to a queen or the specially designed clothes of today’s female students which are used to hide cribs in the examination hall, the existence of the hidden compartments tantalises us with the possibility of a space within a space – something akin to the Foucauldian heterotopic space containing an anomalous hidden chamber. Possessing the knowledge of this space endows one with power, a power often associated with having a secret. The essay is a blend of semi-empirical and semi-historical research, where the second part throws light on the two specific elements involved in the story of the hiding places: (i) the element of the forbidden, since these spaces enable women to procure what is otherwise prohibited; and (ii) the element of agency or authority that these spaces provide to the women unbeknown to their opponents. The survey, conducted among selected contemporary young Indian women (aged 18–35), indicates how agency lies in the precariousness of this storage, as its discovery would mean disaster but its very existence suggests some form of liberation.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces

Abstract

Performance magic in the Victorian period was dangerous, exclusive and naturally relied heavily upon concealed spaces and clothing. The late nineteenth century, however, saw an increase in the marketing of performance magic towards women, particularly through the popular press. Articles such as the ‘Conjuring for Ladies’ (1889) series sought to amend the gender imbalance seen in both conjuring as a profession and as a hobby for pleasure. In terms of costume, however, female magicians both amateur and professional were at a disadvantage in regard to the hidden apparatus inherent in male magicians’ clothing. Men had many options for assisting with tricks, such as rigged waistcoats fitted with a profonde, a hidden back pocket depicted in Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin’s Card-Sharpers (1891) as an essential mechanism to assist with card tricks, which women were unable to utilise due to its traditional attachment to a waistcoat. This chapter explores conjuring’s complicated relationship with concealed spaces during the nineteenth century by focusing upon these examples of pockets and the later legacy of conjuring ephemera primarily as symbols of gender divisions within the profession. It then registers ways in which the dangerous world of professional magic could, nevertheless, penetrate domestic space by giving an account of an antique chest lined with publicity materials for the magician Mr Moon.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces
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This essay examines caricatures of ‘secret’ pockets stitched into the dresses of breastfeeding mothers in the late eighteenth century. Exposing the breast through a ‘peep’ hole, these pockets pictured a private act turned into a public spectacle. Inviting both the erotic gaze and conservative outcry, satirists including James Gillray and John Kay captured the novelty in prints such as The Fashionable Mamma, –or– The Convenience of Modern Dress (1796) and Modern Nursing (1796). Engaging with debates about privacy, voyeurism, and the split maternal/sexual significance of the breast, these works contributed to ongoing debates about the display of women’s bodies. From the nursing mother of the new French Republic to the Free the Nipple movement of 2012, the bare breast has long signified the distinct authorities, freedoms, and secrets of the sexes. This essay asks why – in a society which medically valorises breastfeeding – the display of the nursing breast and its contents commonly attracts unease and even arousal. As part of this, it considers how ostensibly critical caricatures of breasts can shed light on women’s rejection of moral authority and masculine control.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces

Abstract

Most contemporary writers of haunted-house fiction still prefer to set their stories in large old buildings in the Gothic tradition rather than in smaller modern houses. Gothic mansions have a complex and confusing network of staircases, rooms and corridors and, almost invariably, hidden doors leading to secret spaces. Readers would find it hard to believe that such spaces could go unnoticed in a modern suburban house. Dean Koontz in ‘Down in the Darkness’ (1986) and Mark Z. Danielewski in House of Leaves (2000) expand the physical boundaries of the modern house through ‘ghost doors’ and ‘ghost spaces’ that appear and disappear. These ghost doors open onto staircases that lead to ‘dark places’ as dangerous as the basements or attics in traditional haunted-house literature. However, although doors as portals to different dimensions regularly feature in fantasy and speculative fiction, they are not common in haunted-house literature. In fact, ghost doors only appear, to my knowledge, in a short story by Koontz, who is also a writer of speculative fiction, and in Danielewski’s novel which is a parody of different literary genres, including speculative fiction.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces
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On 25 March 1741, England’s only Foundling Hospital opened its doors in Hatton Garden, London. The institution’s aim was to prevent child abandonment and make the children useful. From that first day, a record was made of any ‘particular writing’ or ‘peculiar thing’ left with a child. These objects included ribbons, jewellery, poems, a hazelnut, buttons, coins, and medals. Known collectively as ‘foundling tokens’, these items were wrapped securely within the child’s admission record and placed in a locked iron chest. The imperative to keep the objects safe and the mother’s identity secret was central to building the institution’s reputation. Receipts made the administrative role of tokens obsolete, but they remained safely stored and hidden. Then in 1858 the Hospital’s Secretary, himself a former foundling, brought these items to the Governors’ attention as objects of curiosity. Now their hidden stories were used to promote compassion in the visitors who might support the institution financially. In this essay I will explore how these items of material culture had both administrative and emotional purpose. I will consider the ‘journey’ of some mundane items into powerful objects, and why secrecy was important irrespective of whether tokens were hidden or displayed.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces
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In the early 1960s in New York, Louise Bourgeois made numerous abstract sculptures she called ‘lairs’. Nests, knots, spirals and shells made with plaster or latex, the works rest casually on a tabletop or else are suspended from the ceiling. Ranging from the handheld to almost two meters in height, the membranous sculptures are scaled to the human body and suggest both familiar and unsettling viscera. Although related to processes of Post-Minimalism, Bourgeois’s lairs – studded with pockets and pouches – are rich with architectural and anthropomorphic qualities. Moebius-like structures in which neither inside (depth) nor outside (surface) can be prised away from the whole, the lairs offer sculptural metaphors gesturing to a private, but essentially unknowable, inner space – or what D. W. Winnicott calls the ‘kernel’ of early subjective life (2001c [1952]: 99). Bourgeois’s objects conjure indwelling, the psychical sense of feeling at home in own’s skin. Although evocative of natural habitats, the kaleidoscopic lairs are ambiguous, resisting interpretation. Operating within a field of play, the sculptures stage affective – and queer – encounters with introspection and imagination. Resembling transitional objects for making sense of self, connecting with others, and navigating the world, the lairs are paradoxical objects ‘to be used’ in tangible and metaphorical ways.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces
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Gloves and mittens – pouches for the hands – have been assigned many different roles and meanings over the centuries, as patterns of fantasy and belief developed around them. This essay focuses on gloves credited with magic powers, both good and evil. Drawing on examples from folktales, literature, film, hagiography and superstition, it shows how such gloves act as multifunctional symbolic objects. They slip between the realms of reality and magical fantasy, promising good luck or ill fortune, providing supernatural protection from physical or spiritual dangers, or inflicting vengeance. They often hold a delicate balance between flesh and spirit, between human and animal, or between life and death. The relationship of glove to hand is explored, for many ‘magic’ gloves have independent agency and wield their power far from the hands to which they belong. But however fantastical magic gloves may seem, all are rooted in some form of lived experience: their supernatural powers may be seen as imaginatively distorted versions of reality. Whether or not we rationalise the magical powers attributed to these gloves, the attribution itself is significant. In their ambiguous relationship to hands (uncannily shadowing their form and movements, yet separate from the body) hand-coverings are intrinsically mysterious.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces
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Abstract

The bag has emerged as a culturally defined object closely affiliated with women. Intimately associated with the female body, it operates as an extension of a woman’s ‘ethic of care’ (Gilligan: 173) – an approach to caring which foregrounds women’s emphasis on human relationships and connectedness with others as well as aspects of taken-for-granted female behaviour. The bag’s ubiquity and affinity with women seals its fate as an object which lies hidden but exists in plain view. Accordingly, a woman’s bag reveals an ‘untold life story’ (Le Guin: 168), historically eclipsed, and often manifest in embedded gendered schemas. Children’s literature is an influential script which educates children on gendered identity, the bag commonly attached to female characters and indicative of their ‘representational double bind’, both their ‘emancipation’ and ‘burden’ (Ridge 2015: 50). Utilising the case studies of Kanga’s bag-pouch (A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner), Moominmamma’s handbag (Tove Jansson’s Moomin series), Katniss Everdeen’s forager bag (Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series), Mary Poppins’ carpet bag (P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins) and Hermione Granger’s beaded bag (J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), I will give critical attention to these bags, showcasing hidden dimensions to their female owners and shedding light on the ‘transformative’ (Rich: 98) power of women’s bags, centred on communal notions of survival and care.

In: The Cultural Construction of Hidden Spaces